Why is postmodernism apparently so ill-perceived in philosophy of science?



In the introduction to Massimo Pigliucci's book Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem, a collection of essays about the topic, I found the following bit:

(...) we purposefully steered clear from the kind of sociology inspired by social constructivism and postmodernism, which we regard as a type of pseudoscience in its own right (...)

Before, I had heard of the Sokal Affair (which i found funny while of bad faith on Sokal's side). Then, while reading one of the essays on the book I stumble upon a Popper anecdote in which he also thought of postmodernism (and Marxism) as something to be avoided at all costs.

At first I thought it was a political thing (that's why I mention Popper's stance on Marx). I've been consuming Cuck Philosophy's videos on YouTube and I've honestly been pretty pleased by post structuralist and postmodern philosophy (to be fair, I do not formally study philosophy and am just starting to study on my own).

Is the philosophy of science so contrary to postmodernism? If so, why? Has it anything to do with the feud between Continental and Analytical philosophy?

(sorry if something comes across as weird, english is not my first language and i'm doing my best, please if you are an editor help me with that (and delete this parenthesis))


Posted 2020-05-08T01:15:19.847

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It cuts across the analytic/continental divide. Analytic philosophy had its own version of post-modernism, post-positivism (Feyerabend, Rorty), who are not particularly well regarded by philosophers of science either. You can get an idea of why from this post about Rorty, and more comprehensively, Zammito's book referenced there. But what particularly discredited continental post-modernists is regularly venturing too far outside of their field of expertise and weaving texts by loose associations instead of arguments.

– Conifold – 2020-05-08T02:26:40.200

I'd advise to erase the second question from the title; it is not how you phrase it in the question and it seems like there are two different questions here (which would be bad :)) – Yechiam Weiss – 2020-05-08T11:00:18.293

1And regarding the question itself: one of the main issue philosophers and scientists (no matter their tradition) have with post-modernist view is of the rejection of "Truth", as in an anti-realist view of truth and its convergence to reality. – Yechiam Weiss – 2020-05-08T11:08:25.723

Postmodernism is a sort of "intellectual fashion", while philosophy of science is (maybe with poor results) a discipline. Some phil of science, like e.g. Feyerabend has been considered "postmodernsit", due to the fact that postmodernism's targets are (inter alia): objective reality, truth, reason, science. It is debatable... but Feyerabend has a deep understanding (and knowledge) of science. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2020-05-08T11:30:31.803


Re the question: "Is philosophy of the sciences purely analytic?", the answer is: No. First of all "analytic" is a slogan more or less as "postmodern". Second, see e.g. G.Canguilhem and G.Bachelard.

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2020-05-08T15:32:50.897

@YechiamWeiss "All truth is partial" is not the same as "Truth does not exist." And for everyone since Popper in the philosophy of science, all truth is partial anyway. This is not an argument against post-modern thought, it is a calumny against reality -- a kind of reality implicit already in Kant. – hide_in_plain_sight – 2020-05-08T16:36:31.780

1Out of curiosity, do postmodernists question the objective truth of historical claims--the reality of Julius Caesar, for example--in the same way they do scientific claims? If they have a tendency to uniquely cast truth-claims in the natural sciences as cultural constructs in a way they don't with truth-claims in the humanities, that might help explain the sense of mutual hostility. – Hypnosifl – 2020-05-08T21:44:25.640


@Hypnosifl Oh, they do, especially in humanities. They see "historical truths" as "hegemonic stories told by those in power", even more so than scientific truths, see Post-Modernism & Historiography and The Ideology of Apathy. Although this applies to "narratives" more than to atomic facts out of context, just as in science they focus on theories rather than individual meter readings.

– Conifold – 2020-05-09T02:22:15.897

@Conifold - Historical narratives seem a little more analogous to "laws of nature" in natural science. But what about something like the existence of atoms, or the estimated distance of stars--doesn't postmodern phil. of sci. question those too, & isn't this closer to an atomic historical fact like "Julius Caesar was emperor of Rome in 49 BC-44 BC" than to a historical narrative? You mention "meter readings" as atomic facts in science, but that seems more analogous to basic facts about historical records we have in the present, not inferences we make from these records to facts about the past. – Hypnosifl – 2020-05-09T04:54:44.047

@Hypnosifl Basically, they do not care about minutiae that are neither here nor there. Attention to them is what the author of the linked piece calls "ideology of apathy" and faults traditional historians for. What they really care about is the "tyranny of truth", discrediting anybody's ability to say:"this is how things are/were/work hence you should act so and so because of it". As long as what I called "atomic facts" remain scattered dust they'd just fault them for irrelevance at most. It is with surmising, so they can be used for something, that the bone of contention really lies. – Conifold – 2020-05-09T05:12:24.767



For many people, Kuhn's notion of the incommensurability of paradigms is a form of postmodernism. So then there is not a conflict, the Philosophy of Science has notable post-modern contributors, who are well respected (if embattled).

But post-modernism is not a single coherent theory of its own, it is a variety of results that leave a given impression: The collection of arguments against Logical Positivism in particular, but against the modern convergence toward a commonsense approach to factuality in general.

So you can't use it as a set of principles, you have to use the individual instances, and their collective implications. To meld those results and their impression into a theoretical structure results in a pseudoscience. They are mutually contradictory, too flexible, don't share a standard of comparison, etc. And they are like that on purpose. But at the same time, they attempt to say quite definite things (even though they know better). You can use them together to make a point, but once you do, you are not left with any way to question the result. And yet they often treat this as a predictive theory.

This overall approach is all too common. People like Feyerabend and Critical Theorists make valuable points, and those points need to be respected to temper epistemological excesses. But they reach well beyond the evidence in search of their findings for the lack of evidence. If you go down that path, you need to take the path with you, because while each argument may be useful, the overall result eats its own tail and weakens the arguments it is trying to integrate with.

But instead of carefully curating this collection of warnings, people generalize from the result. This amalgam becomes a theoretical synthesis that denies theoretical syntheses, but not itself. They derive principles, that they know cannot be used as classical principles. Because that is one of the principles they derive. But then they use them that way. Because human beings have standards of argument, which they cannot escape.


Posted 2020-05-08T01:15:19.847

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Read John Zammito’s A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-Positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour. (https://www.amazon.com/Nice-Derangement-Epistemes-Post-positivism-Science/dp/0226978621), which assiduously tracks the movement in the 20th Century from traditional epistemology and philosophy of science to the sociology of knowledge and of science, borne primarily of radical, histrionic and hyperbolic misreadings of Quine's holism and underdeterminism, the notion of theory ladeness of facts/perceptions, and Kuhn's incommesurability (from his 1962 opus, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). This is a book that, given your interests, as expressed here, you NEED to peruse.

As a primer, have a look at these posts, your concerns are, to some extent, outlined and fleshed out: Does philosophy shed any light on how parties can fruitfully debate without an agreed source of truth?, Post-Positivism's Relationship to Post-Modernism, and Looking for a book to compliment Zammito and Mohanty in understanding the ethos of post positivistic realism


Posted 2020-05-08T01:15:19.847

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