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  1. Steve Fuller has written a prescription, and hopes to persuade people who identify themselves as “social epistemologists” to follow his prescription. He ought to realize the futility of trying to get a bunch of academics from different disciplines to march in step with him. Some will march to the beat of his drum, but others will continue to listen to different drummers.

    I get the sense that the “promise” is “unfulfilled” because too few social epistemologists followed his marching orders. The worst, of course, are the despised “analystic social epistemologists.” They are the “enemy within,” subversives who prevent the promise of social epistemology from being fulfilled. “All told,” Fuller says, “the continued existence of analytic social epistemology shows tht even the most irrelevant academic activities can survive as long as they have a critical mass of passably intelligent, self-regulating people who demand relatively few resources to flourish” (p. 31).

    Fuller is clear enough about the promise: “the recovery of normativity in the organization of inquiry” (p. 30). Of course, there has been no shortage of men and women who have formulated prescriptive rules for inquiry. Even analytic social epistemologists often precribe norms. So it is not “normativity” in general that was lost, and has not been recovered. It’s normativity of the “right kind” that is in short supply.

    Fuller’s specification of the right kind of normativity comes at the end of his essay (pp. 34-5), where he spells out his ideal of “a self-empowering, dynamic democracy.” This is the ideal towards which he hopes social epistemologists will work, and the rules they should follow are those which will make their inquiries increase the probability of realizing this ideal.

    He provides a prototype for the kind of person needed for this ideal to be realized, Johann Wolfgan von Goethe. He imagines the role of the university: “a production line for an endless supply of Goethes, each the product of a uniquely forged synthesis of all that s/he has learned, a vital whole much greater than the sum of its parts, who would then go out and do great things in the world” (35).

    My political ideal is similar to what I understand his ideal of democracy to be, an ideal articulated by Lincoln’s notion of government of, by, and for the people. I am also disappointed that universities are not doing more to help implement that ideal. I’m not sure that I would describe my ideal university system as producing an “endless supply of Goethes,” but I get his point.

    What bothers me about Fuller’s essay is that its authoritarian rhetoric seems to conflict with the democratic ideal he espouses. This conflict frightens me, and probably leads me to be more critical of his rhetoric than I should be.

    One rhetorical habit that particularly bothers me is his attribution of the powers of human persons to abstractions. He says: “While the historical philosophy of science – peaking with Lakatos and Laudan in the 1970s and 1980s – understood the above point very well, … (p. 33). Personification is ok for poets, but I think philosophers and social scientists should avoid it. Fuller attributes an act of understanding to “the historical philosophy of science.” Another instance is in the final sentence, where he says “social epistemology should devote its attention” to “the ideal of Bildung – the process by which one becomes a self-legislating person in a world in which all the default norms are distintegrating” (p. 36). It is because many social social epistemologists are self-legislating persons that we will devote our attention to what we each believe to be important, and will not submit to the legislation of a leader.


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