The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Steve Fuller

Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History of Our Times

VIII Conclusions

University of Chicago Press, 2000, 379-423.


1. The Canonization of Saint Thomas Kuhn

2. A Career of Lucky Accidents and Studied Avoidance

3. Getting over Kuhn: The Secularization of Paradigms as Movements

4. High and Low Church Secularizations of Science

5. Reinventing the University by Rediscovering the Contexts of Discovery and Justification

6. Final Strategic Remarks


1. The Canonization of Saint Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was one of the most influential academic books of the second half of the twentieth century, and arguably the one that has done the most to shape both academic and public perceptions of science.  However, Structure was the product of a particular context and its influence has been of a particular kind.  The context may be roughly divided into personal and situational factors.  The key personal factor was Kuhn’s membership in a generation trained in physics who came of age at the dawn of World War II.  During that time, the discipline that had attracted Kuhn and others as the continuation of natural philosophy by experimental means was rapidly transformed into the paradigm case of the sociotechnical behemoth, “Big Science.”  Like others of that generation, Kuhn found this transformation profoundly disillusioning.

The key situational factor that enabled Kuhn to channel his disillusionment productively was the General Education in Science curriculum, designed by Harvard president and U.S. atomic bomb administrator James Bryant Conant.  As one of the masterminds behind the transition to Big Science, Conant was concerned that the public might become suspicious of science if they understood its subsequent developments exclusively through the horrific effects of the bomb.  Kuhn developed the argument of Structure while an instructor in Conant’s curriculum, the aim of which was to enable students to abstract a distinctive scientific mind-set that has remained constant throughout the vast social and technical changes that science has undergone in its history.

Kuhn and Conant were clearly using the General Education curriculum for somewhat different, yet overlapping, ends.  Kuhn was given the opportunity to articulate the ideal of scientific inquiry that had originally


motivated him to pursue a career in physics, while Conant had found a reliable medium for normalizing science’s role in contemporary society.  What they shared was an interest in promoting a normatively desirable understanding of science that was grounded, in some sense, in its history.

However, this story is complicated by the exact way Kuhn attempted to ground his normative ideal, namely in three hundred years of the history of European physical sciences, while at the same time refusing to comment on the failure of those very sciences (not to mention the biological and social sciences) to conform to his ideal for most of the twentieth century.  Kuhn’s response to the chord that his book struck - his silence and increasing withdrawal from the communities that embraced him - is at least partly explained by his awareness of a double-truth doctrine in the writing of history of science, which he himself called “Orwellian”: on the one hand, a heroic history to motivate scientists in their daily activities; on the other, a messy, dispiriting, yet more down-to-earth history that the professional historian uncovers mainly for consumption by other historians.  Ironically, what Kuhn presented as the “real” history of science in Structure itself turned out to be a myth, not only because its own empirical basis was suspect, but more importantly its narrative was used uncritically by social scientists and other inquirers to legitimate their activities as paradigms on the same footing as those of the physical sciences.

The overall effect has been that Structure diverted emerging tendencies in the 1960s to question the role of Big Science in the academy and society at large, while reinforcing the ongoing fragmentation and professionalization of academic disciplines.  Both developments marked a decisive turn away from the ideal of a unified science that probably motivated Kuhn’s original interest in physics as the continuation of natural philosophy by more exact means.  The net social conservatism of Structure’s impact could well have pleased Conant, but not its support for an intensified division of academic labor.  However, the latter explains the book’s appropriation by a broad church ranging from “normal scientists” to self-avowed “postmodernists.”  The point of my book has been to explore the background social, philosophical, and historical conditions that have allowed this strange turn of events, in the hope that we may still be in a position to remedy whatever damage has been caused by an unreflective acceptance of the account of science given in Structure.

Although I have been chiefly concerned with the career of a book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the contexts in which I have embedded the book’s origins and impacts, and especially the normatively charged language I have occasionally used to explain these developments, suggest that I wish to pass judgment on its author, Thomas Kuhn.  To be sure, it is


difficult not to do so.  Historical figures so close to our own time invite consideration of their suitability as role models, and the more I learned the less I approved.  I admit to favoring figures who display an awareness of the sociohistorical setting in which they stake their claims to knowledge.  In this respect, James Bryant Conant and Alexandre Koyre, in rather different but equally reflexive ways, appear more exemplary figures than their protége, Thomas Kuhn.  Indeed, reading Structure in light of his two mentors easily leaves the impression that their value choices constitute taken-for-granted premisses for Kuhn’s account of scientific change.

Nevertheless, I have neither the interest nor the evidence to deliver a verdict on Kuhn’s life, let alone indict the man of crimes of the intellect.  As far as intellectual personalities are concerned, my main interest is in evaluating “Kuhn” as an ideal type of how academics respond to their social environment - indeed, the sense in which Kuhn was “there,” as raised in the article that originally motivated my inquiries, as recounted in the preface to this book.  It will become clear in what follows that Kuhn’s mode of response to his environment marks a profound transition in the nature of academic life.  In short, what did it mean to be someone in Kuhn’s position?

In the anglophone outposts of French social theory, it is nowadays fashionable to speak of habitus, the set of attitudes and expectations one acquires through the successive forms of discipline that constitute one’s upbringing, which are subsequently reinforced by others over the course of a lifetime. [1]  In this book, there have been occasional glimpses into Kuhn’s habitus, especially his lengthy incubation period at Harvard, which encompassed undergraduate and graduate training, as well as his induction into the newly created Society of Fellows and ultimately his first regular teaching post.  In his last major interview, Kuhn left little doubt that his years at Harvard were the most formative in his life.  His father and uncles had attended Harvard.  Harvard was where Kuhn first found a circle of friends and felt he fitted in.  Failure to achieve tenure at Harvard also nearly caused Kuhn to have a nervous breakdown.  Last but not least, Kuhn met Conant, whom Kuhn regarded as the brightest person he had ever known - a judgment that forced him to shift his father, a clever and energetic engineer-turned-businessman, down to the second position. [2]

1. The concept of habitus is developed in Bourdieu 1977, 72-95.

2. On these Harvard-related details, see Kuhn et al. 1997, 46-48, 163, 170.  Conant’s displacement of Kuhn’s father invites further psychoanalytic exploration.  In the interview, Kuhn contrasts his father, a quick-witted man of action, and his mother, a socially inept intellectual.  Kuhn identifies with the latter but admires the former.  However, Kuhn also observes that his father failed to fulfill his potential, in part because his efforts came to be dispersed after World War I, where his talents had been concentrated in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  [Generally speaking, the need for achievement figures prominently in Kuhn’s interview.  In fact, he associates his discovery of the power of normal science puzzle solving with a watershed moment in his education, namely when he realized that the unstructured setting of his “progressive” primary school days had prepared him poorly for solving physics problems in high school, thereby undermining his “straight A” average.  See Kuhn et al. 1997, 148.

Those interested in pursuing the psychoanalytic dimension of Kuhn’s thought should find two features of the interview of note.  First, as a young man, Kuhn underwent psychoanalysis for his difficulty in relating to women, though his description of the relationship to his father and Conant may well strike the psychoanalytically inclined as “feminized.”  My thanks to Stephanie Lawler for talking me through this psychoanalytic possibility.  Second, he claims that his interest in “climbing into people’s heads” was triggered by this experience in psychoanalysis.  See Kuhn et al. 1997, 163.  The latter point bears an intriguing relationship to Jacques Lacan’s admission that his own distinctive approach to psychoanalysis was triggered by Koyré’s interpretation of Galileo. See chapter 1, note 65.]

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Conant’s style of recruitment politics reflected an aristocratic orientation to the social order, one to which Kuhn acquiesced, albeit without ever having engaged in its active promotion. [3]  Kuhn’s passive acceptance was probably facilitated by the different values that Conant and Kuhn assigned to Conant’s actions toward Kuhn.  For example, Kuhn reports being very impressed that Conant wanted him to do a case history on mechanics for Natural Sciences 4, given the significance of mechanics for the history of science. [4]  No doubt, for his part, Conant appreciated the efficiency of having the case history done by someone with the relevant knowledge at his fingertips.

Moreover, Harvard’s willingness to deny Kuhn tenure shortly after Conant’s departure from the presidency testifies to a general impression that Kuhn was beholden, however passively, to Conant’s patronage and the vision of the world with which it was associated.  This vision assigned to elite American universities the unique role of consolidating and protecting the heritage of Western civilization, especially as it underwent the twin twentieth-century threats of Nazism and Communism.  More specifically, like C. P. Snow’s depiction of the “two cultures” divide in Britain, Conant’s vision presupposed that the humanities had handed over the task of cultural preservation to the sciences, or at least to those trained in the natural sciences who could make that heritage come alive to nonscientists destined for positions of power.  Conant made this vision most explicit in his foreword to Kuhn’s first book, The Copernican Revolution, but its most concrete legacy was in the General Education in Science curriculum where Kuhn honed the core theses of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. [5]

3. On “recruitment politics,” see the underrated Cook 1991,65-66.

4. Kuhn et al. 1997, 159.

5. Although Kuhn studiously refrained from acknowledging any specifically intellectual debts to Conant, he nevertheless admitted that he found it hard to cope when Conant’s various administrative duties forced him to turn over the lecturing of Natural Sciences 4 to Kuhn, which suggests how much he had relied on Conant’s intellectual (and other) leadership in the [course.  Kuhn wrote out all his lectures, a compensatory reaction that, by his own account, inhibited his subsequent efforts at writing.  See Kuhn et al. 1997, 166.

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Conant’s sense of science’s world-historic mission did not especially endear him to Harvard’s doyens, most of whom still operated with a liberal arts college model of the university in which the humanities reigned supreme and even the natural sciences were viewed more as teaching than research subjects.  Indeed, resentment periodically surfaced in the minutes of the General Education meetings at how the liberal arts were becoming subordinated to the needs of Big Science research, be it the special deals that researchers negotiated on teaching loads or the way in which Conant himself generally saw teaching as a conduit for promoting the aims and products of research.  The formative experiences in Kuhn’s professional life occurred in the midst of this particular culture war.  This point comes out very clearly in the protracted debate over his tenure, which centered on Kuhn’s drift from the sciences to the humanities without having made a clear mark in any field.

In Whiggish hindsight, we maybe tempted to conclude that the doyens were unduly harsh or downright obtuse in their judgment of The Copernican Revolution as a good teaching text but not much more. [6]  However, without a clearly established history of science profession in the United States, let alone at Harvard, it was genuinely difficult to determine the disciplinary criteria that applied in Kuhn’s case.  The only frame of reference that would have been common to both the allies and enemies of Conant was the nature of Harvard itself.  Kuhn simply failed to deliver on Harvard’s fifteen-year cultural investment, at least as Harvard’s humanist doyens measured it.  The most natural interpretation of the tenure committee’s assessment, then, is that Kuhn was not sufficiently attentive to the obligations that were incurred by the privileges he enjoyed as a recruit to the American intellectual aristocracy. [7]  What the committee failed to anticipate was that Kuhn

6. Remarks by Edwin Kemble and Leonard Nash, in Minutes, 8 November 1955.

7. In the lengthy deliberations over Kuhn’s tenure, this point was explicitly raised by Harry Levin, who eventually became the Irving Babbitt Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard.  Levin said he sat on many university committees over the years in which Kuhn’s lack of performance was repeatedly justified by extenuating circumstances.  See Minutes, 8 November 1955.  Later Levin would reflect that during this period his own field was undergoing an identity crisis, as a largely American attempt to construct an abstract literary science, the “New Criticism,” clashed with the synthetic historical scholarship of such émigré Europeans as Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer, who were aligned with the iconographic tradition discussed in chapter i, section 3.  Kuhn’s work did not fall comfortably into either category.  See Levin 1969, esp. 479.

In these self-professed democratic times it is awkward to invoke an aristocratic ethic that revolves around the exchange of privilege and obligation.  Indeed, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, when the expression noblesse oblige was coined in 1837, it was already meant ironically.  Nevertheless, the injection of an elitist dimension into normative discourse suggests that some people, in virtue of their social position, deserve to be held accountable to [a somewhat different standard from that of the run of humanity.  Modern moralists are uncomfortable with this idea because it presupposes that we cannot all be judged by a common standard, be it deontological or utilitarian, that marks us as children of the same God or ape.  In other words, to accept “privilege” and “obligation” as reciprocal terms of moral appraisal is to acknowledge the failure, or at least the shortfall, of the democratic project whereby people are judged entirely on the basis of their own intentions and actions, without factoring the cultural burden they have inherited and acquired.

However much we may wish academia to be constituted as a democracy in the sense presupposed by modern ethical theory, it is not now and it certainly was not in Kuhn’s lifetime.  By pretending otherwise, we may salvage the honor of those who have occupied Kuhn’s position, but we do our nonelite colleagues a severe injustice in the process.  If someone groomed to rule fails to provide the expected form of leadership, then that is prima facie grounds for believing that such a person has morally failed.  The most articulate and systematic challenge to modern ethical individualism is still Bradley 1927.  Bradley’s conception of one’s “station and its duties” should be read as the philosophical counterpart to Bourdieu’s sociology of habitus.

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would later publish a book, Structure, that accomplished much of what the committee had wanted - indeed, with the help of the cultural investment that constituted Kuhn’s habitus (specifically his stint as a General Education instructor), but without Kuhn’s deliberate involvement.

We face a subtle interpretive problem here, one that reflects the historical transition from an aristocratic to a capitalistic field of play in academia.  Perhaps most indicative of this problem is what Robert Merton (b. 1910) has called “the principle of cumulative advantage,” which we first encountered in chapter 1, note 1, under its nickname the “Matthew effect.”  According to this principle, the more benefits one receives, the more one will continue to receive.  In what sense does this characterize Kuhn’s rise to prominence?  Merton, himself a Harvard man somewhat older and less privileged than Kuhn, recognized Conant’s style of recruitment politics for what it was. [8]  However, Merton tends to give the principle a much stronger capitalist spin than would seem appropriate in Kuhn’s case, which leaves the principle’s general normative implications radically unclear.  Kuhn, the product of an aristocratic culture, provides Merton’s most elaborate illustration of the Matthew effect at work, yet Merton’s principle is usually associated with a capitalized scientific environment, where one’s academic credentials clearly prove to be a good predictor of the quantity and quality of both one’s own and one’s students’ long-term research productivity. [9]

In this context, the principle is normally read as marking an invisible-

8. Perhaps the reader will not be surprised to learn that Merton’s own professional progress did not exhibit Kuhn’s streamlined trajectory.  Though himself a Harvard graduate, upon completing his Ph.D. in 1936, a tight job market forced Merton to the backwater of Tulane University, New Orleans, out of which a torrent of publications catapulted him into a distinguished position in an Ivy League university, Columbia.  A good intellectual biography is Crothers 1987.

9. The contrast in Merton’s presentation of the principle of cumulative advantage may be seen in the Kuhn-oriented Merton 1977, 71-108 and Merton 1973, esp. 439-59, which focuses on the natural sciences.


hand process, the uncanny ability of the scientific community to pick its winners without explicit criteria or external supervision.  However, those generally skeptical of invisible-hand arguments immediately pounce on the word “uncanny.”  They question whether the predictions are sufficiently independent of the outcomes at successive stages of the process - who gets into graduate school, who gets a job, who gets an article published, who gets tenured and promoted, etc. - to constitute a series of fair tests.  In an ideal capitalist environment of perfect competition, they would.  The people making the predictions (admissions officers, personnel committees, editorial boards) would literally place bets (in the form of scholarships, grants, salaries, and journal space) on particular players.  But these bettors do not control the outcomes of the game.  The outcomes emerge from interaction of the players themselves, depending on who turns out to make the most brilliant advances, as seen through the eyes of their peers.

What sort of evidence would one seek to demonstrate that the principle of cumulative advantage is, indeed, the result of the capitalist process just described?  Two facts stand out as very relevant to the natural sciences (and increasingly relevant to the other academic disciplines).  The first is that, in the game outlined above, the vast majority of players - including those with prestigious pedigrees - lose in the long run.  That the winners are most likely to come from prestigious backgrounds is certainly compatible with the fact that most of those with prestigious backgrounds drop out of the game after a certain point: they fail to complete their degrees, they fail to get and keep good jobs, they fail to publish, or finally, if they publish, they fail to be recognized for having published.  In short, the amount of waste in individual human talent tolerated by the science game speaks to a process that is not subject to the designs of any human agency.

The second relevant fact is that the players must demonstrate their skill as soon as they enter the field of play, endlessly showing that they can provide return on investment, so as to continue to enjoy the affections of future investors.  The combination of these two facts can leave the impression that the science game is not rigged.  Promise must be quickly backed by product.  It is tough to win simply because of the scarcity of prizes relative to the pool of contestants.  Such an understanding of the environment invites the ascription of credit and blame to the skills and efforts of individuals, both on the field and in the betting parlors, so to speak.  Scientists can only blame themselves for not making the most of their cultural capital, and similarly university officials can only blame themselves for having invested their institution’s cultural capital on the wrong scientists.  Such is the individualized moral universe of the capitalist field.

In contrast, someone in Kuhn’s position is most naturally understood as


having operated in an aristocratic field of play, one in which cumulative advantage incurs cumulative obligations.  The normative presuppositions here are markedly different from the capitalist ones just enumerated.  (However, determining that Harvard and other elite American universities from the early 1940s to the late 1950s operated in an aristocratic, rather than a capitalist, field of play would require demonstrating that they could have reliably placed their recruits in influential academic - not to mention non-academic - posts.  Certainly, Conant and Harvard’s humanist doyens acted as if they could.)  The basic scheme is that each generation of academic leaders is actively recruited by those in a realistic position to select them.  Thus, while the aristocrat and the capitalist concur on the highly stratified nature of academic success, they explain it in radically different terms: the former by design, the latter by effect.

Aristocratic recruitment typically involves a period of incubation during which recruits are not expected to produce any independent work, but rather are to become imbued with the doctrine that they will spend the rest of their lives extending and defending.  But there come moments of truth, when recruits must do something that reveals their induced capacity to lead.  For example, they may spontaneously rally to a defense of the realm when it comes under attack, even when the realm is the notional one of “academia” or “science.” [10]  For better or worse, Kuhn never actively engaged in this strategy.  Lest we forget, Kuhn was ultimately judged a failure by those who managed the aristocratic recruitment process, and it is only once more strictly capitalistic criteria are introduced that the overall impact of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions can be explained, namely, in terms of what I described in section 7 of the introduction as the book’s “servant narrative” status, which attracted a wide range of intellectual consumers.

However, the question remains why such a success of the marketplace, which depends entirely on the use that others make of a work, should then serve to confer attributions of profundity on its author.  Here Kuhn’s habitus

10. The ideal type for this sense of aristocratism is provided by the Japanese samurai, who successfully translated the unconditional loyalty and discipline demanded of their warrior ethic from feudal administration to research management in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  See Fuller 1997d, 123-29.  However, similar precedents can be found among some European aristocrats, especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  See Bauman 1987, 25-34.  Closer to Kuhn is the career of his rival, Gerald Holton (b. 1922), who has mitigated the tensions between science and its social environment for the better part of a half-century.  Holton’s guardianship of scientific virtue extends at least to 1958, when he was asked to turn the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences into the quarterly journal, Daedalus.  The early articles from his editorship were collected together as Holton 1967, a set of mostly Harvard-based responses to C. P. Snow’s “two cultures” thesis.  Most recently, Holton’s samurai impulses have been expressed in a set of essays directed at the ongoing Science Wars (Holton 1993).


plays a crucial role: it was much easier to take Kuhn out of Harvard than Harvard out of Kuhn.  I mean this in two senses.  The first relies on a very perceptive attempt to understand the aristocratic mentality as an ideal type of political action.  In the case of fallen aristocrats, saintliness is often the interpretation that nonaristocrats have projected onto the chosen one’s alternative lifestyle.  The second sense in which Harvard could not be taken out of Kuhn, which will be discussed in the next section, concerns Kuhn’s propensity to find himself at the right place at the right time to be led in directions that turn out to be fruitful, or at least suggestive, for his research.

Terrence Cook has analyzed not only those who adhered to their elite calling but also those who, in one way or another, strayed from the appointed path. [11]  Among the many ways in which saints reveal their aristocratic bearing is their ability to endure, evade, and exit from disagreeable social situations without their own status becoming diminished in the process.  Saints typically ignore criticism and stoically suffer injustice because they believe that a more active response would compound damage that has been already done.  Only those with considerable control over their own fate who also believe in the larger significance of their actions are entitled to think in such terms.  Lesser mortals have no choice but to respond, regardless of the consequences for either themselves or others.  This point can be illustrated with Kuhn’s response to the perversion of normal science that accompanied the atomic age.  As we saw in chapter 4, section 6, the uncritical pursuit of highly technical work that enables paradigmatic puzzle solving to proceed apace has also enabled scientists to be easily co-opted into projects where their prowess is subserved to often dubious military-industrial ends.  Yet, instead of reflecting critically on the ends of their inquiries, Kuhn would seem to have scientists either stick to their work or, as Kuhn himself did, withdraw from it entirely.

Saints are perceived as leaders in direct proportion to their rejection of the obligations imposed by their aristocratic habitus.  Usually this rejection is deliberate but it can also be unselfconscious, which then leads saints to spurn their followers.  Often this serves only to encourage the followers to apply and develop the saint’s ideas, as if to prove their own worthiness. [12]

11. Cook 1991, esp. chaps. 4-5.

12. At the risk of courting charges of cynicism, I have observed that attributions of saintliness are most easily made by those who have never experienced the aristocratic lifestyle and hence have only witnessed the freedom - but not the constraints - that such a lifestyle entails.  In other words, the sense that a saint’s followers have of their own imagined inability to resist the temptations of aristocracy contributes significantly to the aura of holiness that surrounds the fallen aristocrat.  Because this sense is based more on ignorance than knowledge of the aristocrat’s actual situation, very personal forms of resistance that, were they made by someone in a less exalted setting, would be regarded as simple expressions of irritation, inconvenience, and avoidance can be easily interpreted as bold political gestures, if the person experiencing [these feelings has an aristocratic background.  In recent public consciousness, the career of Lady Diana Spencer, the late princess of Wales, perhaps best illustrates this phenomenon.]

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Whether the followers are justified in this course of action depends on the hold that the aristocratic imperative has on the rest of society.  One indicator is a widespread belief that good can arise only from pure motives.  Thus, if change is unlikely to occur without an initiative from a disaffected aristocrat, then it is not surprising that saintliness is attributed to that person.  With the decline of hereditary monarchies in politics, academia may be the only globally pervasive institution that still has pockets of aristocracy in this sense.  In that case, the aristocrat’s purity of motives applies to inquiry.  Given Kuhn’s personal disdain for ideological extensions of his views, it is not far-fetched to interpret Kuhn’s actions as those of a saint, albeit a rather unselfconscious and secular one.  At least, I shall assume this diagnosis in what follows.


2. A Career of Lucky Accidents and Studied Avoidance

It is clear from interviews conducted with him over the years that Kuhn turned away from a career in theoretical physics after becoming profoundly disaffected by the routine and destructive uses to which science was put in World War II.  Conant’s curriculum seemed to provide a way of reinstating his original interest in science.  But as the years passed, Kuhn distanced his concerns from those of the historians and sociologists of science who had derived inspiration from his work, many of whom were overtly concerned with understanding the changing contemporary scene, even when the past was their nominal topic.  Thus, when asked explicitly whether the story presented in Structure would need to be altered in light of the changing character of science in the twentieth century, Kuhn had this to say:

I see no reason to suppose that the things I think I have learned about the nature of knowledge are going to be disturbed by the need to change the theory of science.  I could be all wrong with respect both to science and to the nature of knowledge, but I would make this separation to explain why I’m less concerned about the question, “Is science changing?” than I might be if studying the nature of science weren’t in the first instance simply a way of looking at the picture of knowledge. [13]

Interestingly, Kuhn did not treat the question as a provocation either to modify his model (for failing to match the contemporary scene) or to condemn the contemporary scene (for failing to live up to his model).  Instead, he respecified his project at a level of abstraction that escaped having to decide between the two.  Moreover, Kuhn’s retreat to the “nature of

13. Sigurdsson 1990, 24 (italics in the original).


knowledge” invited scrutiny in just those features of his work that philosophers have found most objectionable: questions of meaning and reference, especially in relation to how scientists come to acquire a specific orientation to the world.  But from the standpoint of the anti-Whig historiographies discussed in the introduction to this book, Prig and Tory, this strategy made perfect sense, as it effectively shifted the salient epistemological difference from the forward-looking “true vs. false” (i.e., how scientific claims are ultimately received) to the backward-looking “understood vs. misunderstood” (i.e., how those claims were originally intended).  Thus, whereas philosophers of science structured their arguments around alternative sets of criteria (e.g., “realist vs. instrumentalist”) that can justify more or less the same set of more or less progressively correct theory choices in the history of science, Kuhn took exactly the reverse tack of showing how the same set of criteria can justify quite different theory choices depending on how the criteria are interpreted and applied at specific moments.  On that basis, incommensurability between paradigms appeared inevitable. [14]

No matter how much Kuhn recanted his more radical rhetoric about scientists in different paradigms inhabiting different worlds, his own research agenda always kept this possibility open - certainly more so than the possibility that science may exhibit some normatively desirable sense of “progress.”  A typically Kuhnian line of reasoning that attempted to put some distance between himself and his radical admirers was to grant the plausibility of the underdetermination of theory by data or the theory-ladenness of observation, and then wonder why self-styled “Kuhnians” would want to conclude that the validity of scientific claims is relative to the social conditions of their production or that nature plays a negligible role in scientific theory choice. [15Kuhn was correct to observe that these conclusions do not deductively follow from their premisses. [16]  Yet Kuhn’s own failure to address exactly how nature makes itself felt in a socially conditioned science hardly set a good example for his would-be disciples. [17]

14. Credit for making this point explicit goes to Doppelt 1978.

15. Sigurdsson 1990, 22-23; Kuhn 1992, 8-9.

16. After all, the validity of scientific claims may be relative to the social conditions of their distribution, which would require looking at the political-economic relations in which they figure, such as the spread of capitalism, imperialism, democracy, etc.  This is the view I happen to hold.  Alternatively, there maybe limits to the human condition - be they Kantian or Darwinian in nature - such that, presented with the same evidence and background information, humans will respond within a relatively narrow range of possibilities.

17. The most philosophically sophisticated defense of bracketing considerations of an external reality from sociological accounts of knowledge remains Barnes and Bloor 1982, which argues that reality plays a negligible role in sociological explanations precisely because it is presupposed by all such explanations, and hence it offers no way of explaining the differences that arise in people’s beliefs.  The type of argument represents strategy B social epistemology, as I called it in chapter 6, note 46.


Of course, Kuhn could not have foreseen all the ways his readers would interpret what he did and did not say in Structure.  Nevertheless, on several occasions after the book’s publication, he was invited to reflect on these matters.  But more than that, as I observed in chapter 1i, section 5, Kuhn was actually afforded a clear opportunity to anticipate the consequences of his book, namely in response to Paul Feyerabend’s prescient remarks on the 1960-61 draft of Structure, which led him to deem the manuscript “ideology covered up as history.” [18]  Kuhn characteristically failed to understand how Feyerabend’s concerns bore on his own project.  As Kuhn saw it, “The quasi-sociological elements of my approach were overwhelmed by [Feyerabend’s] desires for society in the ideal.” [19]  Undeterred by Kuhn’s obtuseness, Feyerabend once again raised this objection at Imre Lakatos’s famous 1965 conference where Feyerabend’s mentor, Karl Popper, formally confronted Kuhn in debate. [20]

That Kuhn had so rapidly risen to the rank of Popper’s debating opponent on Popper’s home turf surprised British observers at the time. [21]

18. For the context and correspondence relating to Feyerabend’s remarks, see Hoyningen­Huene 1995.

19. Kuhn et al. 1997 187.

20. Feyerabend 1970, esp. 202-3.

21. In personal communication, several professional philosophers - who, as students, traveled from Oxford to attend Lakatos’s celebrated conference - recall having wondered why such a fuss was being made about Kuhn.  Without Lakatos’s conference, they believe, Structure might have left little impression on British philosophy.  Since virtually all the core logical positivists had moved to the United States with the rise of Nazism, Britain lacked much of a positivist establishment for somebody like Kuhn to be portrayed as revolting against.  Moreover, British higher education provided an especially poor soil for cultivating a cadre of professional philosophers of science.  Philosophy was done rarely alone and usually with either classics or mathematics.  The standard vehicle of academic professionalization, doctoral-level training, was virtually nonexistent.  The spirit of G. E. Moore’s antinaturalism had been inherited by the dominant “ordinary language” philosophy, whose learned ignorance of science was eventually savaged in Gellner 1959.  Moreover, the influential Viennese émigrés turned out to be outliers from mainstream positivist thought.  While Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper were not especially enamored of the humanistic bent of British philosophy, they were downright hostile to attempts to specialize the discipline.  In this respect, the career of A. J. Ayer (1910-89) is instructive.  After attending some Vienna Circle meetings, Ayer became the positivists’ first anglophone proselytizer with the publication of Language, Truth, and Logic.  But despite the book’s enormous notoriety and sales, Ayer himself soon withdrew from the philosophy of science to deal with more classical questions in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, and eventually succeeded Bertrand Russell as Britain’s “public philosopher.”

The substance of Kuhn’s own views was seen from Britain as a hodgepodge of such familiar Britain-based thinkers as Wittgenstein, Polanyi, and Toulmin.  Moreover, another philosopher had already begun to triangulate a position around their philosophical concerns: the engineer Rom Harre (b. 1927), whose work was grounded in the ordinary language philosophy of 1950s Oxford.  However, Harre crossed an invisible line of philosophical respectability when he admitted Aristotelian realism back into the conceptual arsenal of contemporary science.  Harre’s metaphysical revanchism appeared to overreact to a logical positivism that probably never had the support in Britain that he supposed.  Miller 1972 is a trenchant review of his systematic treatise, Harre 1970. Since that time, Harre has become a philosophical guru [among social psychologists who eschew experimental methods in the study of human beings in favor of discourse analysis.  (Aristotle would have approved.)  Yet here too Harre’s revolutionary designs have been seriously challenged.  See Tibbetts 1975, a review of Harre and Secord 1972.  As to be expected, Harre’s objectionable metaphysical ideas have been largely reinvented (with hardly any mention of Aristotle - or Harre, for that matter) by Nancy Cartwright (b. 1944) and received much more warmly in that guise.  Her ongoing attempts to rehabilitate the logical positivists into post-Kuhnian philosophy of science have no doubt aided in that cause.

Among Kuhn’s earliest British defenders was Mary Hesse (b. 1924), who eventually held the first chair in history and philosophy of science at Cambridge.  A student of the philosophy of nineteenth-century physics, and especially its continuities with natural theology, Hesse had found Kuhn’s interest in the religious character of the scientific community a relief from the secular humanist image of science popularized by Russell and Ayer.  After David Bloor did postgraduate work with her in the late 1960s, she went on to champion - again almost alone in the British scene -the Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge.  A representative selection of her work is Hesse 1980.  My M.Phil. dissertation (on “reductionism” in phenomenology and logical positivism) was supervised by Hesse in 1980-81.]

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Nevertheless, it reflected the Popperian perception that Kuhn had been anointed by Conant to provide a philosophical defense of the Big Science initiatives that increasingly characterized American research in the Cold War era. [22]  Yet given Kuhn’s ostracism from Harvard in 1956 and the dismantling of Conant’s General Education curriculum shortly after the launch of Sputnik (see chapter 4, section 7), the view from London seemed to be nearly ten years out of date.  In 1965, Kuhn probably did not warrant such exalted treatment.  Nevertheless, the star billing helped convert the Popperian conjecture about Kuhn’s status into a self-fulfilling prophecy - a most ironic fate, considering Popper’s own heightened awareness of the havoc that publicly promoted predictions can wreak on the reliability of our knowledge of human beings. [23]  The irony is only compounded by Kuhn’s failure to realize, until after Structure was already in press, that logical positivism had moved on from its extreme Vienna Circle formulation to a position so close to his own at the time that he openly wondered whether he would have written Structure had he known of that shift. [24]

A curious feature of Kuhn’s self-understanding was the ease with which he acknowledged the accidental character of what turned out to be decisive influences in his intellectual development.  In his last extended interview,

22. Interview with Jagdish Hattiangadi in Toronto, October 1994.  Hattiangadi had been a graduate student at the LSE in 1965 and was originally tipped to be Kuhn’s respondent, until Kuhn objected.  A good sense of the Popperian view of Kuhn’s social significance, which takes his Harvard habitus very seriously albeit critically, is Jarvie 1988, esp. 314 ff.]

23. The locus classicus for this argument is Popper 1957.

24. From his final interview, it is clear that, while writing Structure, Kuhn was working with the conception of logical positivism he received as a Harvard undergraduate in the early 1940s.  See Kuhn etal. 1997, 183-84.  Curiously, although Kuhn never hid Quine’s influence on his own thought, he did not seem to recognize the role that Quine’s long-term engagement with Rudolf Carnap played in modifying the logical positivist position to one that would enable Carnap, by the early 1960s, to see Kuhn as a kindred spirit, as noted in chapter 6, section 4.  See Creath 1990.


Kuhn gave the impression that he was in endless need of guidance to focus his thoughts.  Yet, he never seemed to appreciate the tension between having a continuous epistemological project and its particular expression being determined by chance events.  More comprehensively reflexive thinkers would have incorporated this tension, however abstractly or symbolically, in the account of knowledge they produced.  For example, the account would probably not portray the crises that occasion major epistemic change as internally generated.  However, Kuhn tended to present these fortuitous episodes more as signs that he was already on the right track, what in more religious times would have been associated with signs from “above,” especially given that these “accidents” have been largely responsible for defining Kuhn’s project in his interpreters’ minds. Thus, in Kuhn’s last interview, we learn the following:

1. A footnote in Hans Reichenbach’s Experience and Prediction led Kuhn to Ludwik Fleck’s The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact;

2. A footnote in Robert Merton’s Harvard Ph.D. thesis, “Science, Technology, and Society in Seventeenth Century England,” led Kuhn to Jean Piaget’s The Child’s Conception of Movement and Speed;

3. James Bryant Conant led Kuhn to Britain, where he learned about history and philosophy of science as a field of inquiry and met Mary Hesse, who would turn out to be his strongest British champion;

4. I. B. Cohen led Kuhn to Alexandre Koyre’s Galileo Studies and thereafter the man himself;

5. Alexandre Koyre led Kuhn to Gaston Bachelard;

6. Karl Popper led Kuhn to Emile Meyerson’s Identity and Reality. [25]

Of all these chance encounters, I believe that the last left the most indelible impression in Kuhn’s intellectual orientation.  This claim calls for substantial comment, since it implies that the person normally seen as Kuhn’s most formidable antagonist - Karl Popper - actually provided him with the principal resource to bolster his position.  To be sure, fifteen years separated the time that Kuhn first met Popper as William James lecturer at Harvard (1950), when Kuhn was told of Meyerson’s work, and then confronted Popper on his own turf in London (1965).  But even more remarkably, that source turned out to be one of this century’s strongest champions of continuity as a theme in the history of science, a theme ostensibly alien to Kuhn’s disjunctive account of scientific change.  So, who exactly was Emile Meyerson?

Meyerson (1859-1933) was no less than France’s most influential non-academic scientific intellectual of the first half of the twentieth century.  He

25. All of these fortuitous contacts are mentioned in Kuhn eta!. 1997, 162-68.


inaugurated a role that was subsequently usurped by Gaston Bachelard, discussed in chapter 7, section 4.  An industrial chemist by training and a man of letters by disposition, Meyerson was the darling of antipositivists across the European Continent. [26]  Popper’s recommendation of Meyerson to Kuhn was prescient in at least two respects.  First, it drew attention to the hidden French roots of modern anglophone philosophy of science.  As I observed in chapters 1 (note 136) and 6 (note 32), Popper’s conception of science as the open society and of reality as an open-ended process were indebted to Henri Bergson, whom Meyerson took to be his main academic rival.  Here we need to recall when Kuhn first met Popper, namely the latter’s invitation to deliver a set of lectures in honor of a philosopher - William James - whose compatibilist attitudes toward religion and science and popular touch made him America’s answer to Bergson.  As Bergson and James had regarded thought in general, Popper located the essence of scientific inquiry in an endless quest for self-transcendence.  In terms of this process, established facts and theories are little more than way stations that potentially obscure the course of inquiry if they are taken as final products in their own right.  Popper told Kuhn to read Meyerson precisely because he had already detected in the young Kuhn disagreements on this point.

Meyerson never hid his debts to Leibniz and Kant, both of whom were inclined to treat established facts and theories as direct evidence for the processes by which they were - indeed, had to be - produced.  Thus, according to Meyerson, the best way to understand the nature of science is not to observe the actual conduct of science, as social constructivists subsequently would, because that could lead to so many dead ends and unscientific directions.  Rather, one should start with unproblematic scientific achievements, because they provide the threshold for what it is that competing scientific theories have historically tried to achieve. [27]  This point is

26. Meyerson was plugged into the major scientific networks of his day, regularly corresponding with Einstein and de Broglie.  Nevertheless, he remains a neglected figure, even in France, but especially in anglophone philosophy.  The most thorough examination of his corpus is still La Lumia 1966.  My thanks to George Gale for sharing his own interest and knowledge of Meyerson with me.

27. A good example of Kuhn’s attachment to this Meyersonian doctrine is his response to Shapin and Schaffer 1985, the most influential social constructivist history of science.  Kuhn accuses them of not knowing, or ignoring, the technical details of hydrostatics that “everybody now learns in high school” in their explanation of why Boyle’s account of the air-pump was preferred to Hobbes’s (Kuhn et al. 1997, 192).  Here Kuhn takes what is now a long-standing scientific finding as the goal toward which both Boyle and Hobbes were aiming in their seventeenth-century dispute, clearly abstracting what Kuhn presumes to be the common goal of their scientific inquiry from whatever other personal and political goals distinguished them in their day.  In contrast, a social constructivist would refuse to grant any clear distinction between scientific, political, and personal goals, until a canonical account of the episode is constructed, whereby the various goals would be disentangled for purposes of vindicating the dominant research trajectory.  Thus, from Shapin and Schaffer’s standpoint, it would not have [made sense to mention matters currently settled in hydrostatics, since it was the resolution of the Hobbes-Boyle dispute that helped to settle them.

In these terms, Popper may be seen as having agreed with social constructivists about the actual nature of science; hence, his insistence on interpreting the “basic observation statements” of the logical positivists as revisable “conventions” for the conduct of inquiry, not indubitable foundations of knowledge.  However, Popper differed from the social constructivists in his insistence on an explicit normative standard, against which such ongoing developments in science may be judged.  My own social epistemology agrees with Popper on both scores, though I am more explicit than Popper about the political character of the means by which this normative standard is determined.  See Fuller 1999b, but also chapter 6, section 1, above.]

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easily overlooked because, like today’s social constructivists, Meyerson himself invoked the distinction between what scientists say and do - but he meant what scientists do once it had been done, not as they were doing it.  Historically, this mentality is closely associated with the argument from design in theology.  It capitalizes on the psychological fact that after an event has occurred it is harder to imagine equally probable alternatives than before it occurs.  This post facto perspective, in turn, suggests that the event was caused for a reason; hence, the need for a rational agent behind the scenes. [28]

The argument from design is most persuasive when the world is seen as both rational and complex, since taken together, these two factors diminish the probability that sheer chance could explain why things are as they are.  Thus, whereas Bergson read history back to front, so that at any point in the past the future appeared indefinitely open, Meyerson read it front to back, so that the present appears to be the logical culmination of the past.  Methodologically, Bergson shadowed the stream of consciousness, while Meyerson diagnosed the textual trace.  That Kuhn stood with Meyerson on this point is demonstrated by his own method of research (noted in chapter 4, section 2), which privileged finished works in the public domain over draft manuscripts in the archives. [29]

Given Meyerson’s exclusive interest in proven scientific achievements, it would be easy to conclude that he regarded his theory of scientific change as normative rather than descriptive.  However, this would clearly mistake the spirit of his enterprise, as Meyerson’s most heated polemics were directed against the logical positivists and behaviorists, both of whom

28. Far from being anomalous, Meyerson’s design-oriented approach to the history of scientific achievement finds good company in the history of scientific reasoning, especially the Reverend Thomas Bayes (1702-61), whose eponymous theorem aimed to formalize inductive (or in Charles Sanders Peirce’s more precise terms, “retroductive” or “abductive”) inference in order to show that the probability of a divine intelligence increased as science revealed just how well-ordered nature is.  See Hacking 1975, esp. chap. 18.  Whewell’s interest in putting the “theos” back in scientific theorizing also fits in this tradition (see chapter 1, section 6, above).

29. See Lecourt 1975, 53, who wisely places Kuhn closer to Meyerson than to Bachelard, despite superficial resemblances.


he accused of normative heavy-handedness.  Meyerson understood the expression “the nature of science” very literally to mean that science is an activity having intrinsic ends, no mere means for predicting, controlling, or even representing something outside itself, called “Nature.”  Indeed, in response to Moritz Schlick of the Vienna Circle, Meyerson argued that to claim that science aims at the comprehensive representation of Nature is to introduce a transcendent normative standard that sidelines the empirical search for the ends that science has set for itself as the embodiment of the human intellect. [30]  We begin to see why Kuhn might have been confused about Feyerabend’s charge that Structure engaged in an ideological whitewash of science.  Kuhn insulated his account from anything - be it called “Nature” or “Society” - that might externally direct the development of science as a form of knowledge.  It left Kuhn with what struck Feyerabend as an artificially, perhaps even strategically, suspended conception of science.

Meyerson- and Kuhn after him - perceived a much harder boundary between science and Nature than his interlocutors.  For example, whereas a positivist, behaviorist, or Popperian would equate the “self-correcting” character of scientific inquiry with how it responds to phenomena in Nature, Meyerson saw science’s self-correction more strictly as a purging of its own past, the ongoing conversion of empirical findings into logical deductions, which placed under continual erasure any evidence for science’s existence in a world outside its own rationalizing tendencies.  Philosophers of science may see here an attempt to turn the distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification into a two-stage developmental process.  Speaking more fashionably, we might say that Meyerson had an “autopoietic” conception of scientific inquiry, as did Kuhn.  Meyerson himself invoked the term “conservation” - as of number, matter, and energy - to identify the principles that have historically functioned as the transcendental basis for knowledge of the physical world: to wit, that whatever happens in this world is the result of something else that happens in the same world.  For Meyerson, the one great revolutionary moment in intellectual history came when the pre-Socratic philosophers abandoned the appeal to supernatural agency and grounded their inquiries in a generalized conservation principle. [31]

Alexandre Koyré also shared this suspended view of science.  Koyre was one of several Jewish émigrés from the Russian borderlands of Eastern Europe whose cultural background was sufficiently similar to Meyerson’s to

30. This debate is outlined in La Lumia 1966, 11-12.

31. The point comes out most clearly in Meyerson’s magnum opus, Identity and Reality (1908).


appreciate the Platonic hermeticist precedent of the perspective that Meyerson brought to bear in the salons he conducted from his home, which were the talk of Paris before the rise of Nazism. [32]  However, Koyré’s affinities with Meyerson are easily obscured if we focus too much on the fact that Koyré was Kuhn’s proximate source for the idea that seventeenth-century Europe witnessed a scientific revolution that culminated in the Newtonian paradigm.  In fact, Koyré’s historiographical stress on rupture was ultimately consonant with Meyerson’s on continuity.

Take Koyré’s portrayal of Galileo, previously raised in chapter 4, section 4.  The principal rupture occurred between the underlying structures of reality that were available only to the intellectually adept and the realm of empirical phenomena that made the art of experiment a suitable foil to the commonsense forms of observation underwriting Aristotelian science.  In Galileo’s day, Scholastic scientists, with one eye on spiritual governance, favored empirically based forms of knowledge that smoothed over the epistemic differences between the governors and the governed.  In fact, those harboring a more strictly Platonic concern for ensuring the integrity of knowledge over time sought protection from such contamination through practices that admit of esoteric interpretations.  The great breakthrough that constituted Galileo’s approach to experimentation was that it met the Platonic need, while at the same time enabling the conversion of those who are moved only by their senses.  The former is illustrated by the potential access that experimental intervention allows to the mechanisms that underwrite empirical regularities; the latter by the import attached to an experimental observation that confirms a prediction.  Together these two aspects systematically purge scientific thought from extrascientific contaminants.

In one sense, Kuhn helped update the psychology that informed this perspective by introducing Piaget’s “genetic structuralist” account of child development in his contribution to Koyré’s Festschrift. [33]  Piaget recognized the tension between science’s overarching interest in what Piaget, following Meyerson, called the “conservation” of knowledge over time with the periodic reconfiguration of the terms under which that conservation occurred. [34]  According to Kuhn and Piaget, the resistance that experience

32. See Collins 1998, 1024 n. 20.

33. Kuhn 1977a, 240-65 (originally 1964).  For more on Kuhn’s debt to Piaget and its bearing on Koyré’s influence, see introduction, note 37, above.

34. Piaget routinely motivated his account of cognitive development as a reaction to Meyerson.  See Piaget 1952, 13; Piaget 1970, 21, 39, 122. Koyré 1978, 2, cites Meyerson for the classic Piagetian example of the modern notion of inertia appearing self-contradictory to ancient and medieval physicists who had failed to abstract the principle from its empirical realizations.  For his part, Meyerson was attracted to Hermann von Helmholtz’s project of naturalizing the normative dimension of cognition by translating Kantianism into experimental psychology.  [However, according to La Lumia 1966, chap. 9, Meyerson never satisfactorily reconciled the transcendental and empirical elements of his historical epistemology, a fate perhaps also suffered by Kuhn.  On Helmholtz’s project, see Hatfield 1990b.]

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poses to our conceptual scheme is not simply an instance of the irrational, as Meyerson thought, but rather marks of a reality that exists beyond our concepts, to which we must somehow “accommodate,” in Piagetian terms.  However, as the word “accommodate” suggests, this recognition of an external reality is not entirely welcomed.  Indeed, given his own experience in psychoanalysis and its admitted influence on other aspects of his work, Kuhn may have been moved by the Freudian concept of “trauma” when trying to capture these unwanted contacts with a world beyond one’s reach, which culminate in a paradigmatic crisis. [35]

Had Koyré not died the year his Festschrift appeared, he probably would have responded to Kuhn’s piece by drawing attention to the “straightness” of his interpretation of Piaget, which focused exclusively on how his experiments induced in children the equivalent of paradigmatic crises, without commenting on how the experiments occluded their own manipulative character.  Indeed, by failing to account for the role of the Piagetian experimenter in the constitution of directed epistemic change, Kuhn lost the political side of Meyerson’s project, which Koyré had uncovered through his deep knowledge of the history of Platonism.  This may be summed up as the ongoing construction of epistemic continuity and progress, a process whose significance Kuhn downplayed by discussing only its products, the histories recounted in postrevolutionary scientific textbooks.  Indeed, Kuhn so minimized the significance of effort needed to maintain the distinction between the scientist’s history of science and the historian’s that he made the two appear to subsist in parallel universes.  The irony here is that shortly before the publication of Structure, Kuhn had shown that the energy conservation principle, far from being a transcendentally knowable feature of physical reality, began life as a set of incommensurable interpretations of ongoing research and only gradually acquired its current canonical form. [36]

So far my account has attributed Kuhn’s significance largely to things that other people thought and did.  As we have just seen, this extends beyond the reception of Structure to its actual composition.  This pronounced state of uninvolvement suggests that he did indeed suffer from a state of diminished cultural responsibility that makes the sense of “being there”  I raised in the preface to this book more than just a nasty dig.  In any case, we need a term for the incapacity to do what is expected of someone in a given

35. See note 2.

36. Kuhn 1977a.


social position, a failure to acknowledge from where one had come and to where one was supposed to go.  Let us call this condition culturopathy.  Culturopaths lack reflexive engagement with what they say and do.  They go through life as if in a vacuum or a bubble.  Academic training unwittingly renders its subjects susceptible to this disorder while preparing a “universal class” of pure inquirers: the so-called Ivory Tower mentality.  The symptoms may range from the crudely comic to the more subtly pathetic: on the one hand, the proverbial absent-minded professor; on the other, the scholar who supposes that publication ipso facto secures readership.  The disorder takes a more specific form in terms of the relationship between historians and philosophers of history, or “metahistorians” in Hayden White’s terms.

White uses the expression “cognitive responsibility” to distinguish the two groups of inquirers. 37  Metahistorians display cognitive responsibility for their narratives in ways that ordinary historians do not.  They introduce epistemological complications that historians normally avoid because historians generally do not refer to the contexts in which their own texts are written and read. 38  By this criterion, both Conant and Koyré were metahistorians.  Conant’s reflexive engagement appeared in disparate presentations of the nature of science to disparate audiences; Koyré’s in scholarly works clearly aimed for highly specialized audiences mentally prepared to receive uncomfortable truths.  These acts of cognitive responsibility incurred costs: Conant’s message became diffuse and widely attacked, Koyré’s esoteric and nearly ignored.  Kuhn lacked this sense of responsibility because he took their two visions as the background conditions for his own seamless narrative for an audience largely unfamiliar with both the quotidian science policy struggles that concerned Conant and the transhistorical worries about truth preservation that concerned Koyré.

37. White 1973, 14 n. 7, 23 n. 12.  White’s source for “cognitive responsibility” is Stephen Pepper, World Hypotheses (1948).  Pepper, who trained at Harvard under the critical realist Ralph Barton Perry, was chair of the Berkeley philosophy department when Kuhn arrived as a junior faculty member in 1957.  Indeed, Kuhn credits him with having wanted a historian of science to be hired within the philosophy department.  See Kuhn et al. 1997, 174.  Pepper distinguished between those who defended their knowledge claims in ways that were compatible with their own presuppositions and those who did not.  The latter were deemed cognitively irresponsible.  In this way, all the bugaboos of rationalism - animists, mystics, and skeptics - could be dismissed in one fell swoop as soon as they engaged in reasoned argument.  Although many suggestive comparisons have been made between Kuhnian paradigms and Pepperian world hypotheses, at most Pepper emboldened Kuhn to continue along a path he had already discerned.  Indeed, given Pepper’s intent, Kuhn would have to be seen as having ironically appropriated Pepper.  After all, Kuhn licensed concerns about cognitive responsibility only after a world hypothesis was threatened with anomalies.

38. Here I follow White’s discussion for purposes of elucidating the history/metahistory distinction without necessarily endorsing his blanket characterization of historians and philosophers.  Clearly, “historians” and “metahistorians” in his sense can be found on both sides of the disciplinary divide between history and philosophy.


Of course, Kuhn’s specific style of culturopathy bore the traces of his habitus.  He disengaged aristocratically.  Upon the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn did not call for the immediate overthrow of the intellectual and political regime associated with Big Science.  Instead, he withdrew his services from both the regime’s supporters its and opponents.  Only someone already in a privileged position could have afforded the luxury of disengaging in this fashion without being consigned to oblivion.  For despite having failed at Harvard, Kuhn managed to move to Berkeley and then Princeton, where he finally received tenure.  He retired as the Laurence Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and Linguistics at MIT.

If Kuhn was indeed a culturopath, then the challenge for his admirers will be to disentangle whatever insight they have derived from Structure from any attributions of intentionality to its author.  The difficulties that lie ahead in neatly drawing such a distinction speak to the peculiar way in which academic knowledge claims are legitimated in our times.  In what sense does a text remain a useful legitimatory tool once it becomes generally known that its author meant few, if any, of his readers’ interpretations and that the social contexts of the text’s production and distribution are regarded as suspect by the text’s most discerning readers?  If readers leave my book troubled by this question, then I shall have succeeded in conveying my main critical point.  You will have begun to appreciate Structure as an ironically self-exemplifying text: a work that grounded science’s success in paradigmatic pursuits that was itself the creation of a mind-set that could not see beyond the paradigms under which it labored.


3. Getting over Kuhn: The Secularization of Paradigms as Movements

Consider the first lesson in the average Western epistemology course: knowledge consists of a truth that is believed for good, if not the best possible, reasons; in philosophical shorthand, knowledge is “justified true belief.” [39]  This definition, which is usually presented with a gesture to Plato or Descartes, fossilizes the opposition that has characterized the “essential tension” of Western culture since the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, specifically the process by which civil authority became autonomous from religious control, or secularization. [40]  That knowledge claims command one’s belief harks back to tests of religious commitment, whereas the demand that such claims be justified recalls the legal procedures of trying cases in secular courts.  In this sense, the philosophical definition of

39. See, e.g., Chisholm 1974.

40.Fuller 1997e.


knowledge is a negotiated settlement between secular and sacred authorities. [41]  The two poles of the tension, which stress the “justified” and “belief” side of the definition, respectively, are epitomized as follows:

(A) Because knowledge is ultimately a justified truth claim, it does not require a personal commitment of belief, simply conformity to the procedural rules of evidence and inference.  Example: legalism, or the public acceptance of secular authority.

(B) Because knowledge is ultimately a matter of belief it can never be fully justified, except by the strength of the commitment and its consequences for action.  Example: voluntarism, or the private acceptance of sacred authority.

It may seem that (B) has virtually disappeared from scientific discussions of knowledge.  However, as we saw in chapter 6, section 2, such a verdict would be too hasty.  In excavating Kuhn’s pragmatist roots, I mentioned William James’s “will to believe” version of pragmatism as a precursor, which is the exception that proves the rule.  Current debates between realists and instrumentalists also turn on whether one truly needs to “believe” in the entities referenced in one’s theories or simply act as if one believed in them.  One plausible way of encapsulating recent philosophical debates over scientific rationality is in terms of when one should make and forsake commitments to particular research programs, especially in the face of less than adequately justified knowledge claims.

Kuhn, following Polanyi, located the “genius” of science in the personal commitment that each scientist presumes of her colleagues.  This mutual presumption then creates a climate of tolerance for somewhat divergent paths of research and even temporary disagreements over matters of fact and interpretation.  In that sense, (A) and (B) remain bound together because (A) is taken to govern the microlevel of day-to-day research and (B) the macrolevel of the paradigm’s overall direction.  Kuhn’s account of paradigmatic change in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions manifests the latent instability of the classical definition of knowledge.  As puzzle solving proceeds apace in a paradigm, scientists who profess a commitment to a certain vision of the truth and have played by a set of rules for justifying claims to the truth will inevitably encounter anomalous phenomena that eventually cause them to diverge on the appropriate direction for inquiry.  This, in turn, precipitates the “crisis” that eventuates in a “revolution” and a new paradigmatic regime.

For Kuhn this tension - the source of collective disenchantment associated with secularization - is potentially divisive; hence its presence should

41. On the idea of belief as commitment or faith (from the Latin fides, as in “fidelity”), see Smith 1977. On the rise of secular law in the emerging nation-states of Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, see Kelley 1970.


be minimized at all costs, most notably in the “progressive” histories of science that students are taught in their introductory science textbooks.  However, an alternative social epistemology of science would forgo this Orwellian solution and embrace the tension as productive, along the lines of Popper’s model of “conjectures and refutations” as the model of rational inquiry, whereby one would be both the best proposer of her own knowledge claims and the best refuter of such claims made by someone else.  But here I must quickly add that the desired metatheory would justify the participation of the entire society in the process of mutual criticism rather than just a self-selected community of experts.

Instead of first tampering with people’s biases as they are trained to be “objective” in their personal assessment of each other’s knowledge claims, I believe that “objectivity” should be a continuously emergent property of the interaction of proponents and opponents of knowledge claims.  Biases, such as they are, would then be negotiated, canceled out, or otherwise overcome in open discourse, not prior restraint.  The model social entity of this collective dialectical process is the movement, which gains strength not by resolving its internal differences but by involving ever larger segments of society in the articulation of those differences.  A good image here is that of a whirlpool that draws more attention to itself as discussion acquires more intensity. [42]  The closest that academia currently gets to this arrangement is the constitution of the social sciences, which (in sharp contrast with the natural sciences) do not launder out ideological disagreements in professional training, but rather enable those disagreements to align with, and often alter, conflicts in the society at large. [43]

The American sociologist Robert Wuthnow has shown that the three most socially significant intellectual movements in the West’s modern era - the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and nineteenth-century socialism  - were successful to the extent that a fairly esoteric group of inquirers extended their arguments to the wider society, so that others found their categories relevant to describing their own lives and situations. 44  These movements lost their creative transformative energy once they became sectarian and paradigmlike.  The difference between a movement and a paradigm may be seen as a shift in the relationship between

42. For an impressive synthetic treatment of movements as the core social formation in terms that resonate with the key role I assign them in knowledge production, see Melucci 1996.  My thanks to Gerard Delanty and Sujatha Raman for alerting me to the significance of this work.

43. On the movementlike character of the social sciences, see (in addition to chapter 5, section 1, above) Fuller 1997d, 20-23.  The idea of movements as the natural opposite of paradigms was first suggested to me by Sujatha Raman.

44. Wuthnow 1989.


presumption and burden of proof.  Whereas a movement shoulders the burden of trying to persuade people who are not yet true believers, a paradigm’s members presume the strength of their common commitments and then wonder how a substantial change in direction would be possible.  The question, then, becomes how to get those who do not spontaneously share the movement’s core beliefs and experiences to act in ways that promote the movement.  In any case, I urge that we turn Kuhn on his head and demonstrate that a paradigm is nothing more than an arrested social movement.

This inversion entails that we regard inquiry as an especially focused form of political action.  Whereas a paradigm-based approach to knowledge would declare politics to be vulgar metaphysics, a movement-based approach treats metaphysics as an inchoate politics.  Thus, a stable body of knowledge is simply what political action becomes once the public space for contestation has been restricted.  (In a similar vein, a functioning artifact - a technology - is simply what political action becomes once patterns of access and usage have become regimented.)  Movements wither and die when “true believers” of various persuasions break off the debate and form sects that invite discourse only from the like-minded.  In that case, the knowledge becomes esoteric and the artifacts fetishes.  Sometimes sectarianism is a legitimate response to a debate that has devolved into violence.  But with a little luck, by then the movement will have left its long-term mark, as the major groupings in society - most of whose members are casual observers to the movement’s activities - reconfigure themselves in terms defined by the movement’s discourse.

Thus, it is crucial for understanding what follows that readers forget any monolithic connotations that the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and socialism have acquired since their heyday as movements.  Following Wuthnow, I am exclusively concerned with the multifarious activities of those who identified themselves in terms of these three movements, and not the activities of those upon whom these terms have been foisted once the movements had been reduced to “grand narratives” that capture little more than a rough periodization of modern history.

Traditionally, social movements have been conceptualized as purely reactive entities composed of disgruntled - if not downright irrational - individuals who lack the sustained purposefulness enforced by proper institutions, such as scientific paradigms.  Perhaps because professional sociologists have often worked on behalf of public administration or industrial management, even they have tended to treat movements as transient or degenerate social formations.  Wuthnow reverses this negative image by charting the trajectory by which discourse fields manage to acquire the political and economic resources that enable them to become vehicles for


large-scale social change.  Accordingly, a movement gestates during a period of economic expansion, which allows many people to enter discourse-intensive occupations, such as the clergy, academia, and the state bureaucracy.  The proliferation of these occupations implies, at the very least, that people feel they need to know what others are doing before they themselves can act, but they cannot fathom for themselves how those others think.  In the final sections of chapters 2 and 7, this feeling was captured in terms of a sense of increased “social complexity” and the attendant need for these salaried scribes to engage in social “intermediation,” but Alvin Gouldner and other critical theorists have tried to give a more radical spin to their labors. [45]

This emergent communicative complexity is followed by a period of economic contraction that causes considerable status dislocation as different sectors of society adapt differently to their new situation.  Professions that had been prestigious or rich lose status, and vice versa, thereby providing the condition of “relative deprivation” that is often seen as a precondition for social revolution.  People in the discourse-intensive fields, who have themselves become dislocated, compete with one another in offering new criteria of legitimation.  They convert their collectively threatened position into an opportunity for expansion and very often risk taking (hence the frequency with which political revolutions are associated with alienated intellectuals).  Whether any major social change actually occurs depends on the ability of dislocated groups to identify a common foe, such as a neighboring country or a vulnerable minority, even if, upon reflection, this supposed foe is clearly little more than a pretext for change: a scapegoat.

Wuthnow’s account represents a recent trend toward treating movements as “flexibly organized cognitive praxes” that produce knowledge for enabling and disabling certain transformations of social life. [46]  What differentiates movements from paradigms is their sense of organization - not necessarily their goals, their longevity, or even their commitment to inquiry.  Successful movements manage to retain their dynamism, their distinctive form of consciousness, as they gain credibility in the course of achieving concrete goals.  They do not simply “evolve” into paradigms.  However, because credibility is popularly measured by the degree of stability that one contributes to the social order, the dynamic credibility required of successful movements would seem to strain the imagination.  Two styles of recent theorizing about movements define the “essential tension”

45. For an early realization of this phenomenon, see Gouldner 1979.  See also chapter 5, section 2, above.

46. For a theoretically sophisticated elaboration of this point, see Eyerman and Jamison 1991.


needed for this dynamic credibility to be maintained.  Between them they display the tension between (A) and (B) in the classical definition of knowledge, corresponding, respectively, to what I call the North American and European styles, so-called for where the relevant researchers tend to come from, but undoubtedly also a willful exploitation of cultural stereotypes for analytical purposes. [47]

The North American style stresses the justification side of the classical definition of knowledge, while the European style stresses the belief side.  The European style centers on the consciousness-raising function of movements.  It is primarily studied by social-psychological methods.  The North American style focuses on the goal achievement function of movements.  Its studies have been grounded most recently in rational choice economics.  Each style of movement thinking is necessary, but not sufficient, for maintaining a movement’s dynamic credibility, as can be seen in Table 15.

The European style emphasizes the role of movements in forming a collective identity among people who may be disparately located (in both space and status), but who nevertheless share experiences that heretofore have been ignored or trivialized - even by the individuals themselves.  The original example that Marx used to discuss this feature is particularly instructive.  Martin Luther campaigned to get the German peasants to stop discounting the cognitive significance of their own sensory and spiritual experience.  This campaign was at once directed against Catholic theology and heliocentric astronomy, which, in their quite different ways, were bastions of cognitive authoritarianism.  However, as Marx himself had already realized in The German Ideology, a movement that thrives entirely on consciousness raising is likely to be confined, ever more dogmatically, to just those people who have had the relevant sensitizing experiences.  In short, it becomes cultish to the point of losing all hope of establishing society-wide credibility.

In contrast, the North American style focuses on the instrumental side of movements, their ability to achieve the goals on their agendas.  Here we find the efforts to distill utopian aspirations to planks on a party platform, which enable the movement to make a series of short-term alliances with more mainstream interest groups.  Not surprisingly, the sheer increase in the movement’s dimensions is taken by its members as a sign of progress, even if it involves diluting the movement’s identity and exaggerating the significance of getting a compromise bill passed as part of an omnibus legislative package.  The advantage of seeing movements as agenda-pushing

47. A good sourcebook for research into the two styles of movement thinking is Morris and Mueller 1992.  The distinction between what I have called “European” and “North American” styles of movement thinking is normally credited to J. Cohen 1985.


TABLE 15. The Essential Tension That Defines Social Movement


                          EUROPEAN                   NORTH AMERICAN

epistemology              belief-oriented                           justification-oriented

sociology                     ideology                                    technology

practice                      consciousness raising                 agenda pushing

status                          end in itself                               means to an end

norm                           intensity of commitment             breadth of support

economy                     resource generating                   resource mobilizing

rationality                  communicative                          instrumental

corrupt version          cultishness                                co-optation

vehicles is that it provides concrete reference points for the movement’s activities, continually reminding the movement’s members - especially those who have not had the relevant sensitizing experiences - that it is heading the entire society in the right direction.  However, a movement that is exclusively focused in this way easily falls victim to its own success, as the movement’s ability to adapt to the mainstream gets mistaken for its ability to bend the mainstream to its will.  In short, the movement becomes captive to its immediate context.

Thus, the dynamic credibility of movements depends on creatively resolving the tension between cultishness and co-optation.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  Most contemporary movements display both tendencies at once.  The sharp divide in the strategy and tactics of so-called “radical” and “liberal” feminism within the women’s movement may be the clearest contemporary exemplar of the difference between European and North American styles of movement thinking.  Many radical feminists ground the distinctive consciousness of women in their biological differences from men, whereas liberal feminists regard gender as a one of several sociohistorical markers of inequities in a system that aims to eliminate all such inequities.  The history of black activism in the United States has reproduced the difference between the European and North American styles in successive generations, but each time in a new register: consider W. E. B. Du Bois versus Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X versus Martin Luther King, and Molefi Asante versus Cornel West.  To be sure, the specific terms of each disagreement were strongly colored by the major political issues of its day, but not so as to obscure the fundamental difference


between the European and North American styles of movement thinking in each case.

When it comes to sustaining a movement’s dynamic credibility, the tension in need of resolution is rather different from Kuhn’s “essential tension” of tradition and innovation, referred to in the title of his collected essays, which defines a paradigm’s form of knowledge.  According to Kuhn, for the latest generation of scientists to remain motivated, they must be led to believe that even a revolutionary theory that came from “left field,” such as Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection or Einstein’s theory of special relativity, could have just as easily come from establishment science.  This leads to the double truth that distinguishes the historical consciousness of historians and scientists.  In contrast, the essential tension defining movement knowledge involves showing that the disparate historical origins of various interest groups in fact converge in common cause.  On the one hand, the goal is to keep an already existing community intact by homogenizing the more disparate features of its history; on the other, it is also to enlarge the community’s constituency by integrating its disparate strands into one trajectory.  The way to meet both goals at once is to recruit the larger society, so that differences within the movement become the terms in which those outside the movement define themselves.  This is the ultimate trick for the public intellectual to turn.

Movements are especially effective in this regard during periods of socio-economic dislocation, when the old social categories fail to capture emerging political realignments.  Regardless of what people think of a movement on its own terms, the movement’s discourse may nevertheless provide the only publicly accessible framework for understanding the full range of on-going changes.  A good case in point is the legacy of socialism, no small part of which was that factory owners came to think of themselves as a “class” in systemic opposition to the class represented by their employees.

Of course, the factory owners did not become card-carrying socialists once they started to think in terms of class.  However, by accepting this movement-inspired designation as their own, they unwittingly opened themselves to certain ways of describing and explaining existing divisions in society that eventually made it easier to justify the intervention of the state in economic affairs.  Wealth that would have appeared, early in the nineteenth century, to be the result of the factory owner’s individual initiative was more commonly seen, by the end of the century, as the product of some sort of exploitation.  This transition enabled the taxation of factory owners and the protection of workers to be regarded as reciprocal policy measures in the emerging welfare state.  Thus, owners have increasingly had to shoulder the burden of showing that they are entitled to keep all


the wealth produced under their name.  In short, the discourse community created by a social movement can be politically effective simply by altering the “spin” that different social groups give to one another’s activities, which in turn opens new spaces for action, especially by third-party regulatory agencies.

Considered in light of Kuhn’s overriding concern for consensus formation in science, a striking feature of the trajectory common to Wuthnow’s three movements is that the peak of their influence corresponded to a high level of internal division.  In each case, opinion was divided over an abstract philosophical question in ways that had clear implications for the parameters of legitimate collective action.  The Protestant Reformers disputed interpretations of the Bible and the writings of the Church Fathers.  The Enlightenment wits argued about humanity’s capacity for self-governance.  Socialists vied over whether industrial capitalism and parliamentary democracy were preconditions or impediments to the ideal society.  Rather unlike the professional posture of a Kuhnian paradigm, the parties to these three movements did not presume that concerted practical action had to await resolution of these fundamental questions.  On the contrary, the more the movements increased their transformative capacity, the wider the circle of people who felt that their interests were somehow implicated in the swirl of opposing discourses.

Here it is worth recalling Wuthnow’s own roots in the sociology of religion, which, following Max Weber, has regarded institutionalization - the formation of doctrinal consensus and its ritualized reinforcement - as sapping the spirit that marked a religion’s charismatic origins. [48]  Under the Weberian gaze, established churches appear as the domestication of more ecstatic forms of religious experience.  Similarly, the kind of divisiveness that eventually diminished the impact of the movements that Wuthnow studied was that of sectarian withdrawal, often under the guise of “purity”: that is, either a refusal to argue with doctrinal opponents or a refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of any existing authority. [49]  Indeed, it would not be far-fetched to think of consensus-based normal science as a strategic retreat from the spirit of inquiry in just this sense, especially if “inquiry” is conceived in the Popperian sense of a sustained willingness to challenge the status quo and to entertain opposing arguments: “permanent revolution,” as he put it in a bit of anti-Kuhnian pique. [50]  In that case, what Kuhn regarded as a mark of collective self-discipline on the part of the founders

48. An excellent recent attempt to put Weber’s perspective in the context of fin de siècle fears of degeneration is Herman 1997, esp. 128.

49. For contemporary corroboration of this point, see Frey, Dietz, and Kalof 1992.

50. See esp. Popper 1975.


of the Royal Society to exclude politics, religion, and morals from their purview would come to be seen as an institutionalized failure of nerve.  And this is precisely the image that I wish to promote.

The Reformation, the Enlightenment, and socialism each left the state stronger, not because the intellectuals supported the status quo (often they did not) but because their disputes reinforced the idea that there was a single, albeit elusive, source of authority, control over which could be determined by publicly contestable means. [51]  In theory the ultimate source may have been Truth, but in practice the state turned out to be the unintended beneficiary of each movement’s relentlessly critical inquiry.  Despite the ambiguous lessons contained in this conclusion, the fact that the beneficiary was the state - and not a private sector of society - offers a ray of hope of movements contributing to the revival of the public sphere.

The unique sociological success of science in the twentieth century has been its ability to dictate to the state the terms of its preservation.  In effect, the scientific community has required that the state adopt its leading theories as a civil religion in return for providing authoritative means for organizing and mobilizing the populace. [52]  An unusual feature of this process is that whereas religion is typically integrated into the daily lives of people who can provide religiously sanctioned justifications for their practices (e.g., food intake in terms of dietary laws), science maintains its hold on society largely through public accounting procedures - such as examinations of mental and physical competence - that still have relatively little connection to people’s lives, as reflected in their persistent ignorance of what informs those procedures.

This helps explain the current crisis in the “public understanding of science” in the English-speaking world, the analogue of which would be difficult to imagine in the case of religion - not because people are more secure in their religious beliefs but because those who reject religion have a better grasp of what they are rejecting than those who reject science. [53]  Since science was embraced by state agencies before it gained much grassroots support in the general public, it has continued to appear an artificial feature of contemporary societies, with the Enlightenment ideal of the “citizen scientist” who can think for herself proving increasingly elusive.

51. See Wuthnow 1989, 577.  The idea of the state as the repository of Truth is, of course, a feature of Hegel’s philosophy of history.

52. We discussed the origins of this process in chapter 2, section 7, when examining the long-term implications of Planck’s victory over Mach.

53. See Fuller 1997d, esp. chaps. 1and 4.


4. High and Low Church Secularizations of Science

The process by which Christendom came to be secularized may prove a useful guide to what lies ahead for science.  As the European states secularized, they refused to grant any religion a monopoly over political and economic resources, while protecting the rights of any religion to profess its creed within state borders.  The immediate cause of secularization was the destabilizing effect of religious wars on the emerging nation-states of Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  The decoupling of political legitimation from religious affiliation was just as much the product of Machiavellian survival instincts as of any interest in ensuring maximum freedom of expression.  And while the institutional ascendancy of the natural sciences in the second half of the nineteenth century is often regarded as a major vehicle of secularization, we may have reached a point at the end of the twentieth century - given the concentration of state resources on scientific research - that calls for the secularization of science itself. [54]  To paraphrase the Enlightenment critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the true test of science as a form of knowledge may be whether it can command believers even after state support has been removed.

If the secularization model is an apt one, we may speak of two “waves” in the critique of the social dimensions of science and technology, akin to the waves of secularization in the history of modern Christianity.  I have called the two waves, Low Church, which resembles the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and High Church, which is akin to the radical hermeneutics of the “Higher Criticism” of the Bible in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which I discussed in chapters 1 and 2 under the rubric of “critical-historical theology.”  In terms of the “essential tension” in Western epistemology raised in the previous section, the Low Church is belief oriented, while the High Church is justification oriented. [55]

54. Among major mainstream economists, the idea that, by the second half of the twentieth century, science had become “the secular religion of materialistic society,” has been most clearly observed in Johnson 1965, esp. 141.

55. I was inspired to draw the Low/High Church distinction in STS in response to Juan Ilerbaig, a Spaniard studying in the United States who was concerned that the field was becoming a victim of its own academic success by increasing the incestuousness of its theoretical debates.  Consequently, the original Low Church concern with a reform of the functions of science and technology in society at large was at risk of being completely lost.  See Fuller 1992d; also Fuller 1993b, xiii.  As of this writing, the only STS textbook that clearly grounds the origins of the field in Low Church movement-oriented concerns is in Spanish: Gonzalez Garcia, Lopez Cerezo, and Luján 1996.  To avoid confusion, I must observe that Gonzalez Garcia, Lopez Cerezo, and Lujan draw a distinction between “European” and “North American” STS that reverses the most natural reading of “European” and “North American” approaches to social movements I discussed in the previous section.  This reversal makes sense, [once we keep in mind that Gonzalez Garcia, LOpez Cerezo, and Luján are talking about the location of STSers (the Europeans tending to be High Church, and the North Americans Low Church), whereas I was referring to the location of social movement researchers, i.e., the people who would study STS as a social movement.  Needless to say, the reason for this reversal in location between the studiers and studied would be worth pursuing.

In the United States, Low Church members tend to affiliate with the National Association for Science and Technology in Society (NASTS), whereas the High Church is associated with the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S).  I first publicly presented this schism in STS at a conference in Copenhagen in October 1992, to which Bruno Latour responded that he had not realized that a branch of STS was rooted in the social activism of the 1960s (and then went on to speak disdainfully about the 1960s, for reasons that may reflect the French experience detailed in chapter 7, section 6).

HHC: [bracketed] displayed on page 410 of original.


In the first wave, just as Luther, Calvin, and their associates called for the Church to recover its spiritual roots from corrupt material involvements, the 1960s witnessed the rise of scientists who “conscientiously objected” to their colleagues’ complicity with the state in escalating the Cold War.  A secularized science would never have given us the nuclear arms race, just as a Protestantized Christianity in the Middle Ages would not have been able to mobilize the material and spiritual resources needed to field a series of Crusades against Islam.  Indeed, these insider critics of science were more likely to speak in terms of programs in “Science, Technology, and Society,” in which courses in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science were part of the core of the science curriculum, not merely enrichment courses taught outside science departments - let alone in autonomous science and technology studies graduate programs that award doctorates for research that shadow the activities of scientists without ever coming to terms with their normative implications. [56]  In this context, the late epistemological anarchist Paul Feyerabend appears as the purest of Protestants in calling for the complete divestiture of state support for science as the best way of retrieving the spirit of critical inquiry from Big Science’s inhibiting financial and institutional arrangements.  Extending the Protestant analogy would involve including the recent charges of scientific misconduct, which have precedent in the personal corruption of Church officials that made the calls for reform most vivid for the average devout Christian.

The second wave of secularization occurred once the Enlightenment transformed the intellectual orientation of academic theology from the professional training of clerics to a form of critical inquiry conducted independently of religious authorities.  The last and most accomplished generation

56. For this phase of STS history, see Cutcliffe 1989.  Among the science critics were, in the United Kingdom, the husband-and-wife team of brain scientist Steven and sociologist Hilary Rose, and, in the United States, materials scientist Rustum Roy, marine biologist Rachel Carson, and botanist Barry Commoner.  These latter-day descendants of the Protestant Reformers had little to do with the establishment of the science and technology studies departments.


of these theologians constituted the Young Hegelians under whose spell Karl Marx fell during his student years.  David Friedrich Strauss’s Life of Jesus and Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity were the texts from this period (the 1830s) that have had the longest impact.  Much in the spirit of post-Strong Programme sociologists of science who have subjected the laboratory to ethnographic scrutiny, these theologians applied the latest techniques of literary archaeology and naturalistic social theory to demystify the Scriptures.  Far from blaspheming God, they believed their demystified readings of early Church history liberated genuine spirituality from the superstition and idolatry that remained the primary means by which the pastoral clergy kept believers in line.  However, the ironic style of these authors put them seriously at odds with both political and religious authorities, causing many of them to lose their professorships and preventing others - such as Marx himself - from ever pursuing academic careers.

The young Karl Marx wrote The German Ideology as a series of didactic reflections on how it was possible for the Young Hegelians, despite the attention they paid to the material conditions of Christianity, to be so oblivious to the material conditions of their own times, and hence be caught off guard by those who accused them of sacrilege. [57]  Perhaps a similar book is now in order, given the surprise that STS practitioners have expressed about the reception that the scientific community has given their work, which has culminated in the recent Science Wars, as recounted in chapter 7, section 5.  It would seem that today’s science secularizers have underestimated the extent to which threatening the transcendental rhetoric of science threatens science itself.

So far, in terms of political effectiveness, the High Church would seem to suffer in comparison with the Low Church.  However, in retrospect, some Low Church attacks on the scientific establishment may also have been misdirected, at least insofar as they imputed much more power to the sheer possession of scientific knowledge than to the social conditions that enable science to have its momentous consequences.  The most extreme version of this sentiment is a scientific version of Luddism that argues that it would have been better never to have developed atomic physics because of the key role it later played in the development of nuclear weapons. [58]  In the face of these extreme sentiments, the High Church tendency to reduce science to a language game has been helpful.  It draws attention to the fact that when it comes to the sciences’ social disposition, what matters is not

57. Marx 1970.  On The German Ideology as an attempt to propel the hermeneutical differences among the Young Hegelians into a political context, see Meister 1991, esp. 86 ff.

58. This viewpoint is by no means limited to the Low Church.  Consider the stand taken by the Oxford metaphysician, Michael Dummett, as recounted above in chapter 2, note 106.


the set of statements and equations most closely associated with a science’s cognitive dimension, but whether these tokens in the scientific language game are made of “glass beads” (as in the Hermann Hesse novel by that name) or money and people.  In short, the High and Low Church may ultimately compensate for each other’s deficiencies.


5. Reinventing the University by Rediscovering the Contexts of Discovery and Justification

Apropos the Low Church tendency to conflate the propositional content of scientific knowledge with the social conditions that enable it to possess worldly power, a great advantage of characterizing the history of science under the rubric of movement rather than paradigm is that it draws attention to the alignment of words and deeds – “ideology” and “technology,” as Alvin Gouldner would have put it - that determines the precise social form that science takes:  Is it a Platonic academic cult insulated from the material world or the technoscientific infrastructure through which the material world transpires?  The historic site for resolving that tension has been the university.

Until quite recently, the folk ontology of the university has been that of a relatively staid and stable institution, reflecting its dual role in extending the frontiers of knowledge in research, while reproducing the existing social order in education. [59]  In chapter  5, section 3, we saw that already by the mid-1960s, Structure bolstered this dual process in the face of student revolts by legitimating academic disciplines, as institutionalized in the department structure of universities.  But as was equally shown in chapter 2, section 7, the duality of research and teaching, especially as pursued by paradigm-driven sciences, has been increasingly in tension over the course of the twentieth century.  Indeed, truth be told, stability has rarely been the hallmark of university life.  At various points in history, especially in late thirteenth-century Paris and early nineteenth-century Germany, the university was quite explicitly the crucible in which social change was forged - more a home for movements than paradigms.  These were periods of considerable socioeconomic dislocation and political unrest, which forced people to seek new categories for understanding their new life situations.  As guardians of society’s reproduction process, educators were in an especially good position to influence the character of the changes.  Back then the universities controlled “the means of analysis.”  Today they are controlled by think tanks

59.Fuller 1999b, pt. 2, elaborates this thesis.


Alasdair Maclntyre has argued that academics were at the peak of their collective public influence in thirteenth-century Paris. [60]  He tells of how the Parisian doctors were worried that the early universities were devolving into mere training centers for legal, medical, and theological practitioners: the graduates would be masters in certain strategic forms of reasoning but unskilled in the general use of reason to criticize their own practices and to pursue non-self-interested inquiry.  The solution was to subsume all the faculties under a single “universe of discourse” - a Christianized Aristotelian idiom - within which criticism (“dialectic” in the classical curriculum) would be explicitly encouraged.  A doctor’s initial submission to this discourse would be sufficient to certify his faith.  Everything he argued after that - however radical or skeptical his conclusions - would be treated as devout inquiry.  According to Maclntyre, the Enlightenment seriously erred in targeting the Church-dominated universities as opponents to free inquiry.  The result (again according to Maclntyre) has been the fragmented and socially inert institution we have today: many autonomous faculties that politely ignore each other and collectively have little effect on society as a whole.

Maclntyre is clearly indulging in revisionist history, especially when he claims that the Enlightenment destroyed, rather than promoted, the public sphere by being a little too hostile to Christianity and a little too friendly to autonomy.  However, his account serves to remind us of the historically important role that the university has played as a vortex for general social change. [61]  The one Enlightenment philosopher who remained an academician all his life, Immanuel Kant, recaptured Maclntyre’s lost image in his last book, The Conflict of the Faculties (1798), which helped cause the resurgence of academic inquiry as a political force that characterized the German idealists and Hegel and his followers, most notably Marx.

However, the history of the university over the last 150 years has been, for the most part, a transformation of “academic freedom” into a jealously guarded guild right.  Instead of providing the models for public debate, academicians have made a point of discouraging public-minded attitudes and actions among themselves.  The benefit has been to shield the university from direct political interference; the cost has been to disable the university from functioning in any political capacity, especially one of its own initia-

60. Maclntyre 1990.

61. One aspect of this situation that we cannot explore here is the role of the thirteenth-century university in laying the groundwork for the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution, a favorite thesis of Pierre Duhem.  Even those who refuse to trace Galileo’s discoveries back to Scholastic speculations in Paris and Oxford generally admit the university’s uniqueness in incubating revolutionary ideas.  One recent learned defense of this thesis is Huff 1993.  See also Fuller 1997d, chap. 4; Fuller 1999b, chap. 3.


tive.  Consequently, most of the drive to change the structure of the university today has come from the outside, often from corporate sponsors who want to blur hallowed distinctions between basic and applied research, not to mention between academic and vocational training.

Rather than seizing these external socioeconomic changes as opportunities for the university to take control of the forces of social change, both liberal and conservative academics have too often recoiled from the challenge, treating it entirely as a threat to the university’s integrity - again, presupposing a stability to the institution that it has lacked when at its best in the past.  A notable exception to this tendency is feminism, which arguably has done more to dynamize the structure of the Western university - to put administrators and faculty more in the mind-set of a social movement - than any school of thought since the original Humboldtian call to Enlightenment as the mission of the university in early nineteenth-century Prussia.

In particular, feminism has drawn systematic attention to the ways in which disciplinary divisions obscure both complex problems and alternative forms of life.  Over the course of this century, Marxism has attempted a similar emancipatory mission in the universities.  However, feminism is unique in that the movement’s theorists truly embody their own theories.  Instead of upper-middle-class white males just talking about the revolution in their classrooms, the female professoriat actually live it.  This has opened the door to more diverse elements of society entering university life, a development that generally falls under the rubric of multiculturalism, much of which challenges residual elitist elements in even Marxist and even Western feminist thinking. [62]

The maxim that the Gospel should not be spread before the ink on the last page is dried is a familiar trope from the history of disciplinization, and indeed has been a useful way of demarcating the pure academic fields from the liberal professions. [63]  Pure academics believe that practical action - be it policy advice or political activism - is only as good as the quality of

62. On the development of feminism and multiculturalism in the contemporary academy, see Fuller 1999b, chap. 4.  Sandra Harding has been probably the most prominent feminist to have developed this point.  See Harding 1991, 1993.  However, there are also signs that even feminism is suffering from paradigmitis - admittedly of a most peculiar kind.  A good example is Nicholson 1994.  This book is a collection of exchanges among four of contemporary feminism’s leading theorists: Seyla Benhabib, Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, and Nancy Fraser. As Fraser herself points out (158), they unwittingly reproduce the positions already staked out by, respectively, Jurgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.

63. A full-blown theory of disciplines based on this perspective is Abbott 1988.  The perennially vexed status of “psychology” as both a therapeutic and a research practice is perhaps the paradigm case of this kind of boundary work.


the knowledge on which it is based.  If there is room for doubt, then that may be enough for the action to do more harm than good.  Yet these High Church tenets are little more than superstitions that presuppose the very sort of epistemological foundationalism that STS researchers have been keen to reject on the basis of constructivist scruples.  If the practical lessons of STS research were reduced to two maxims, it would be these: that you do not need to be an expert to understand expertise, and, moreover, that the experts themselves may not live up to their own standards.  Thus, the possibility that we may be wrong or change our minds is taken as not merely given but unavoidable.  What we need, then, is an ethic of accountability for the knowledge claims we decide to make, in light of such a fallibilist epistemology.  This may mean making it institutionally easier to admit error and change one’s mind in public, as well as to compensate those who have been wronged by the actions we have taken. [64]  The overall result would be to make a general reluctance to participate in politics unjustifiable on a purely epistemological basis.

Taken together, the radical lessons contained in High and Low Church STS provide the core ideas for reversing the embushelment of Western intellectual life, which, as we saw in chapter 1, section 6, reached the university’s doors in the 1830s with William Whewell’s coinage of “scientist” as the name of a profession. 65  Closely associated with this coinage is the distinction in the contexts of discovery and justification in scientific research.  In chapter 1, section 7, we witnessed the initial deconstruction of that distinction by Kuhn and other historicist philosophers of science.  Sociologists of science then dealt the final blows in the 1980s.  Common to the

64. For a defense of the need to preserve what I have called “the right to be wrong,” see Fuller 1999b, esp. chaps. 1, 8.  It was also instrumental in the original modern debates concerning the “public sphere” in Germany.  See Broman 1998.

65. The rest of this section retraces ground covered in Fuller 1999b, chap. 6, sec. 3.  The key difference between what is said there and here turns on the role assigned to republicanism in that book versus that of social movements in this one.  (On the provenance of republicanism, see chapter 1, section 2, above.)  To be sure, they are not the same but they share a concern for the material conditions under which knowledge can have empowering consequences for those who would lay claim to it.  In republican societies, those who engage in public debate need not worry about the consequences of their knowledge claims on their own well-being: staking an idea is kept separate from staking a life.  In that sense, one can err with impunity.  For this reason, property ownership was often made a requirement for political participation.

Social movements adopt a rather opposed strategy but to similar effect: instead of assigned well-defined “inalienable” (property) rights to individuals, movements “deindividuate” their members, such that each individual can count on the rest of the collective to compensate for whatever problems she runs into as they all strive toward realizing the movement’s ideals.  Were scientific inquiry conceptualized as a movement in this sense, then the fact that a discovery originally emerged from a particular research program would be taken not as an achievement warranting the reinforcement of that program, but rather a problem that is redressed only by making that discovery available to as many other research programs as possible.


historicists and sociologists has been the view that a research tradition justifies its continuation by the number of robust discoveries that are made under its auspices.  In effect, a research tradition enjoys intellectual property rights over the knowledge claims it originates.  Thus, if a scientist working in, say, the Newtonian or Darwinian research tradition happens to make an important finding, then the finding counts as a reason for promoting the tradition, and soon the impression is given - especially in textbooks - that the finding could have been be made only by someone working in that tradition.  In other words, priority quickly becomes grounds for necessity.

This view presupposes a highly competitive model of scientific inquiry that gravitates toward the dominance of a single paradigm in any given field.  It does not entertain cases in which knowledge claims originating in one research tradition have been adapted to the needs and aims of others.  One important reason is that ultimately the historicists and sociologists believe that alternative research traditions are little more than ways of dividing up the labor in pursuit of some common goals of inquiry, such as explanatory truth or predictive reliability.  Thus, they presume that there is some automatic sense in which a discovery made by one tradition is “always already” the property of all - though access to this supposedly common terrain requires that one exchange allegiances first.

Consider the treatment of Darwinian evolution and Creation science as mutually exclusive options in the U.S. public school curriculum.  Although two-thirds of Americans who believe in evolution also believe that it reflects divine intelligence, such compatibility has yet to be seen as a philosophically respectable option, and consequently has no legal import. [66]  But what exactly would be wrong with teachers trying to render biological findings compatible with the Creationist commitments of most of their students?  One common answer is that the presupposition of a divine intelligence or teleology has retarded biological inquiry in the past and has not contributed to evolutionary theory since the time of Darwin’s original formulation.  Yet the contrary presuppositions of mechanistic reduction and random genetic variation are also likely to have led to error. [67]

66. Carter 1993, 156-82.

67. For more on the broad church of maverick biologists who advance this line of argument, see the interviews with Brian Goodwin, Lynn Margulis, Stuart Kauffman, and Stephen Jay Gould in Horgan 1996, 114-42.  These biologists are attracted, to differing degrees, to holistic, preformationist, and even quasi-teleological accounts of evolution.  Typically, they justify their revision of the Darwinian canon by widening the scope of evidence and reasoning taken to be relevant to a comprehensive explanation for the development of life on Earth.  Here it is worth observing that one of the founders of the neo-Darwinian synthesis was himself a Russian Orthodox Christian who made a valiant attempt to reconcile his own research in genetics with contemporary existential theology: Dobzhansky 1967.


Here arises the social responsibility of the science educator, either a professional scientist or a philosopher or sociologist of science: Should students be forced to accept the current scientific canon in the spirit of a Kuhnian paradigm - that is, as a total ideology that would deny the legitimacy of whatever larger belief systems they bring to the classroom?  Or should students learn how to integrate science into their belief systems, recognizing points of compatibility, contradiction, and possible directions for personal and collective intellectual growth?  If we favor the latter movement-based perspective over the former paradigm-based one, then we need to reinvent to discovery/justification distinction.  According to the old distinction, an ideally justified discovery would show how anyone with the same background knowledge and evidence would have made the same discovery.  The role of justification was thus to focus and even homogenize the scientific enterprise through a common “logic of scientific inference.”  In practice, however, “the same background knowledge and evidence” was an understatement of what was actually needed for people to draw the same conclusions, namely, involvement in a particular research tradition.

In contrast, the new distinction I propose conceptualizes scientific justification as removing the idiosyncratic character of scientific discovery in a deeper sense than the old distinction pursued - not simply the fact that a discovery was first reached by a given individual in a given lab, but the fact that it was reached by a particular research tradition in a given culture.  In other words, the goal of scientific justification would be to eliminate whatever advantage a particular research tradition or culture has gained by having made the discovery first.  Its overall import would be to remove the objectionable, exclusionary features associated with “scientific progress” without erasing the undeniable insights that have been achieved under that rubric.

This project would safeguard scientific inquiry from devolving into a form of expertise whereby, say, one would have to be a card-carrying Darwinian before having anything credible to say about biology.  It would also have the opposite effect of the old distinction, in that it would aim to render a discovery compatible with as many different background assumptions as possible, so as to empower as many different sorts of people.  Models for this activity can be found in both the natural and the social sciences.  In the natural sciences, there are “closed theories” (e.g., Newtonian mechanics) and “dead sciences” (e.g., chemistry), which can be learned as self-contained technologies without the learner first having to commit to a particular metaphysical, axiological, or perhaps even disciplinary orientation.  Perhaps the historically most interesting models of this renovated sense of discovery/justification at work are the hybrid forms of inquiry


that emerged originally as a defensive response to Western colonial expansion in the nineteenth century, which have reappeared in late twentieth-century non-Western resistance to “postmodern” approaches of science studies. [68]

In the social sciences, conceptual and technical innovations originating in one tradition are typically picked up and refashioned by other traditions, so as to convey an overall sense of history as multiple partially intersecting trajectories.  Indeed, just this cross-fertilization has historically given the social sciences the appearance of a field fraught with unresolvable ideological differences.  However, from the social movement approach to knowledge production I advocate, this is a good thing. 69  It means that the universal value represented by “science” starts to resemble that of “democracy,” in that both may flourish in a variety of social settings but, at the same time, must be actively maintained and renewed because of the ease with which the ideal can turn corrupt, especially as particular sciences or particular democracies become victims of their own success: e.g., governments whose mass popularity renders them authoritarian, sciences whose consensuality renders them dogmatic.

In Table 16, I contrast my vision of movement-driven “citizen science” with that of a paradigm-driven “professional science” in terms of alternative ways of articulating the discovery/justification distinction.  The relationship of discoveries to their scientific justification has been traditionally compared with tributaries leading to a major river.  Sticking with the fluvial metaphor, I counter with the image of a major river opening up into a delta in which multiple traditions can make use of a body of knowledge that

68. In Fuller 1997d, chap. 6, I considered the cases of modern Islam and Japan, where the instrumental power of the natural sciences has been neither denied nor anathematized, but rather systematically reinterpreted so that these sciences become a medium for realizing the normative potentials of their respective cultures.  Along the way, some telling critiques of the historicist perspective on science are made.  Basically, Islam criticized the West for not anticipating the destructive and despiritualizing consequences of its “science for its own sake” mentality, whereas Japan lodged the reverse charge that the West superstitiously clings to the stages undergone by its own history as a global blueprint for the advancement of science.  In Fuller 1999e, I bring the story up to date, as I report on the first global cyberconference on “public understanding of science,” which I organized in February 1998.  Here the non-Western participants questioned the postmodern tendency to lump science and technology together as “technoscience,” while cultures are seen as autonomous entities.  On the contrary, these interlocutors argued that the balance between the West and non-West will be redressed only once technology is divested from an ideological sense of “science” that presupposes the adoption of a certain cultural or theoretical perspective before making full use of the technology in question.

69. In this respect, I do not share the misgivings occasionally expressed in Deutsch, Markovits, and Platt 1986, which documents the tradition-jumping tendency of innovation in the social sciences.


TABLE 16. Redrawing the Contexts of Discovery/Justification Distinction




metaphor guiding the distinction

convergence: tributaries flow-ing into a major river

divergence: a major river flowing into a delta

prima facie status of discovery

disadvantage (because of un-expected origins)

advantage (because of expected origins)

ultimate role of justification

concentrate knowledge through logical assimilation

distribute knowledge through local accommodation

background assumption

discoveries challenge the dominant paradigm unless they are assimilated to it

discoveries reinforce the domi­nant paradigm unless they are accommodated to local contexts

point of the distinction

turn knowledge into power (magnify cumulative advantage)

divest knowledge of power (diminish cumulative advantage)

definition of “contemporary science”

present is continuous with the future — the past is dead and best left to historians

present is continuous with the past — the future is open to the retrieval of lost options

scientist exemplar

Max Planck

Ernst Mach

originated in only one of them.  At stake in both cases is the ease with which knowledge can be used as an instrument of power. 70


6. Final Strategic Remarks

In chapter 7, section 4, I briefly discussed the “Epistemological Chicken” debate on the future of STS.  There I observed that the two sides extrapolated from a common past to alternative futures, both of which inhibited the field’s political and intellectual dynamism.  In light of the movement model of inquiry developed in section 4 of this chapter, some significant nuances can be added to this critique.  On the one hand, Harry Collins’s appeal for STS to plow ahead in a business-as-usual fashion, extending the breadth of its empirical work without plumbing its theoretical depth, is the sort of parochialism one would expect from the corrupt version of the European style of movement thought.  On the other hand, Bruno Latour’s appeal for the field to incorporate the scientist’s folk ontology into its own

70. The table refers to “assimilation” and “accommodation.”  The terms, also found in Kuhn, are due to Jean Piaget and are used here to distinguish the relative openness (low and high, respectively) of a knowledge-producing community to fundamental change.


narrative framework smacks of co-optation, an instance of the corrupt version of the North American style of movement thought.

The impasse between Collins and Latour is symbolized by the Janus-faced character of STS’s much-vaunted case study methodology.  On the one hand, case studies create intellectual entitlements for the STS practitioner that effectively restrict the “community of inquirers” simply to those with similar training and experience; on the other, because case studies are typically evaluated merely in terms of their descriptive adequacy (“Does it tell a good story?”), and not some larger normative context, they can be of potential use to a wide range of users, most notably those who do not share the STSer’s personal or professional commitments. Either way the dynamic spirit of inquiry loses. [71]

Nevertheless, beyond my gloomy diagnosis of the Epistemological Chicken debate lies a rosier prognosis for how a debate of this sort may be turned into a movement catalyst.  On the surface, Collins and Latour appear to be arguing about the future of a specialized field of inquiry called “science and technology studies,” but in fact their attitudes reflect a fundamental disagreement about the prospects of their own knowledge production site, the university.  Collins has steered clear of collaborating with the state and industry, whereas Latour has been housed in an institution that has had to develop such networks in order to sustain its research programs.  There is nothing especially mysterious about this difference.  Their respective national academic contexts largely explain it.  But the difference also reflects an emerging schism within academia more generally, which STS is in an especially good position to explore, given its professional interest in the social conditions of knowledge.

The schism is between what fashionable science policy theorists call “mode 1” and “mode 2” conceptions of knowledge production. [72]  Collins represents the mode 1 conception of university-protected, paradigm-driven research, whereas Latour represents the mode 2 conception, which welcomes the university’s permeability to extramural concerns.  There is much at stake, once the dispute is amplified in these terms.  What does it mean to be “political” or, for that matter “public,” in this volatile context of inquiry?

71. The success of case studies in driving out “grand narratives” from science studies - namely, the philosophical histories mourned in the introduction to this book - is much like the success enjoyed by a country that remains neutral during a time of war.  While historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science can nowadays congratulate themselves for not reifying Capitalism, Progress, and even Science, the forces behind these hypostases continue their work in the world uninterrupted.  All that has changed is that a group of academics have voluntarily removed themselves from the fray.

72. This jargon comes from Gibbons etal 1994.  For a critique of the historical sensibility that informs this work, see chapter 2, note 20.


How are the universal aspirations of inquiry to be reconciled with the pressure to be both professional and client-driven?  What fate awaits the flickering spirit of criticism in an intellectual world increasingly beholden to the idea that there is safety in numbers?  The influences that have flowed through and from The Structure of Scientific Revolutions provide one set of answers to these questions, which I have presented and opposed in these pages. [73]

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of the debate surrounding mode 1 vs. mode 2 knowledge production is the negative stereotyping of the university that it suggests, especially the association of academic inquiry with disciplinary specialization (mode 1) and of nonacademic inquiry with interdisciplinary exploration (mode 2).  As we saw in chapter 5, section 3, this stereotype has been one of the Kuhnian legacies to higher education - that the natural development of science consists of a potentially endless division of disciplines into mutually exclusive domains of inquiry.  Any diversion from that plan must come from the larger society, which is the ultimate source of the excitement and relevance that characterizes interdisciplinary research.  Yet the “problem-centered” nature of such research means that once the work of an interdisciplinary team is completed, its members return to pursue normal science in their home disciplines.  There is little expectation, and virtually no institutional incentive, to convert that research into a form of knowledge that challenges existing specialties.  Indeed, like the biological hybrids to which it is often compared, interdisciplinary research is not supposed to spawn offspring.  I have spent much of my career contesting this view of interdisciplinarity. [74]

Notwithstanding the proven persuasiveness of this Kuhnian mythology, disciplinary specialization was not endemic to either scientific inquiry or academic life before the onset of the Cold War.  Indeed, with the end of the Cold War, and a general contraction of funds for higher education, this point is being learned the hard way.  But it is just as much a lesson in history as economics.  The task before us as academics is to reverse the image of the university that the mode theorists project, so that instead of being an institution that must be forced from the outside to change, the university becomes the site where major social change is initiated. [75]

73. Another recent attempt to address these questions is Brown 1998.

74. See Fuller 1993b, esp. chap. 2.

75. Although the argument cannot be pursued here, I would go so far as to claim that, given the current surplus of academically overqualified people (i.e., people with Ph.D.s working outside of universities), the potential exists for reversing the effects of mode 2 knowledge production, as academic norms are injected into state and business cultures that have become too adaptive through an uncritical pursuit of short-term goals.  An instance of this injection is the emergence of the “chief knowledge officer” (CKO) in corporations, often sporting the [credential “executive Ph.D.,” who treats the scientific literature as part of the economy’s extractive sector, i.e., a natural resource that can be cultivated and prospected in ways that the scientific community itself has failed to do because of its habitualized normal scientific patterns of behavior.  (In this context, the scientific community functions much as indigenous peoples sitting on a rich mineral deposit.)  The interesting feature of this development is the extent to which businesses will allow their training, practices, and expenditures to be structured by academic considerations, which are seen as helping to stabilize their dynamic environments.  Of special note is the “Fenix” initiative between the Stockholm Business School and Chalmers Institute of Technology, which is now supported by most of the Swedish multinational corporations.  My thanks to Thomas Helistrom and Merle Jacob for introducing me to this post-mode 2 setting.]

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Of course, this is a very tall order, but the history of STS provides one clear way of seeing it through.  It requires that our field overcome its amnesiac sense of novelty and inertial sense of autonomy (see chapter 7, section 3) by rekindling its institutional roots in service teaching for scientists and engineers.  A perhaps more attractive way of putting the point is that STS is better positioned than any other field to reinvent liberal arts education, which originally aimed to equip the elite with the ability to think independently about a broad range of topics where their opinions would matter. [76]  Today the charge has been democratized and the students are not so much ignorant as encumbered with technical knowledge whose strengths are much better known than its weaknesses.  In our mode 2 world, it is increasingly obvious that private firms can provide specialized training much more effectively than a university bureaucracy that would have students take courses that have little bearing on their anticipated future careers.  Yet the precarious employment market of high capitalism and democracy’s need of a fully functioning citizenry points to the unique value of a specifically university-based education.

Ironically, STS talks a lot about the importance of “science in the making” but says little about “scientists in the making.”  Consequently, STSers typically confront scientists - be it as subjects in the laboratory or adversaries in the Science Wars - as fully finished and all-too-resilient products.  In contrast, the insertion of STS into science education at a mass level would erase the field’s alien character.  Indeed, eventually STS thinking would reappear in the self-understandings of the scientific traditions, as respected past scientists are assigned credit for anticipating important STS findings. [77]

76. I must thank Bill Keith for this insight into the implications of my interest in distinguishing paradigm-based from more broadly university-based knowledge production.

77. This strategy was first made vivid to me by Graeme Gooday, who spoke at a conference I organized on “Science’s Social Standing” at Durham University in December 1994.  This was the first formal meeting of representatives of the various sides in the simmering Science Wars.  Gooday impressed the scientists in the audience by recalling that an icon of experimental science no less than Thomas Henry Huxley objected to the routinization of laboratory training on the grounds that it would stifle the creativity of fledgling inquirers.  See also chapter 2, note 34, above, where these remarks are placed in the context of Mach’s [approach to science education.  The theoretical basis of my approach to STS education is given mostly in Fuller 1993b and is sympathetically applied and extended in Collier 1997.]

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Earlier in this book, I have had occasion to remark that the Orwellian sense of history that Kuhn ascribed to scientists was partly inspired by Alfred North Whitehead’s famous quote, “A science that hesitates to forget its founders is lost.” [78]  In closing, let me suggest a relevant counter-quote from another Harvard sage of the early twentieth century, George Santayana (1863-1952), who declared, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” [79]  After Kuhn, it has become common to think that history needs to be left behind if science is to make progress.  But it maybe that what Kuhn and especially his followers have taken to be the mark of intellectual resolve on the part of the scientific community is really, as Santayana thought, indicative of either infancy or, more likely, senility.  In either case, Santayana’s saying points to a conception of the past as the living repository from which today’s heresies and tomorrow’s orthodoxies may be forged. [80]  Raymond Aron made the point with characteristic elegance: “The past is never definitively fixed except when it has no future.” [81]  This book may be seen as having pursued the complementary thesis: The future is never definitively fixed except when it has no past.  Ironic though it be, a forthright attempt to make the past contemporaneous with the present may be the best strategy for progressive thinkers in any field of inquiry to keep the future forever open.  If there is a subversive message hidden in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this is it.

78. See chapter 6, note 89.

79. Santayana 1905, 284.  I first came across this quote in my earliest exploration into the nature of historical consciousness, a meditation on the relationship between Gibbon’s ambivalent account of the burning of the Library at Alexandria in 641 and David Hume’s contemporary call to commit to the flames every book that does not contain logic or evidence.  See Fuller and Gorman 1987.

80. Compare Santayana 1936, 94.  This point marks somewhat of a shift from an earlier statement in which I claimed that history (and the humanistic disciplines more generally) could play only a critical role in reconstituting the conditions of knowledge production.  See Fuller 1993a, xii-xiv.

81. Aron 1957, 150.