A Reply to Fuller’s Prolegomena, Lyudmila A. Markova

SERRC —  July 25, 2016 — 2 Comments

Author Information: Lyudmila Markova, Russian Academy of Science, markova.lyudmila2013@yandex.ru

Markova, Lyudmila A. “A Reply to Fuller’s Prolegomena.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 7 (2016): 52-53.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-373

Please refer to:

brexit_leave

Image credit: (Mick Baker)rooster, via flickr

I agree with Steve Fuller that an event such as Brexit should be studied from the standpoint of philosophy and sociology. However, Fuller’s own social epistemology is quite suitable for this purpose. It seems strange that he does not use directly his own ideas for understanding current transformations in society. My own thinking comes in light of social epistemology presence in the mainstream of Russian philosophy in the last few decades. Of course, there are differences in my position and Fuller’s, but we share much in common. 

I hope Fuller agrees with my interpretation of his presentation of social epistemology. The main idea in Fuller’s “fundamental question of social epistemology” [1] is the necessity to overcome the inevitable diversity in the conditions of scientists’ activity, if we want to receive a result, which could be recognized by all members of a given community as true. The difficulty is to explain how we receive a true result, if we need to preserve the varying degree of scientists’ access to existing knowledge in different laboratories and at different times. For example, if we neglect the fact that the contexts of the same study, conducted in different places and at different times, may not be completely reproduced, we are dealing, then, with only one study and one result. In another case (many contexts, many results), we will have to deal with many truths. In science, the problem of pluralism and relativism emerges. It is difficult to answer the question: In what way is it possible to establish a link between them?

The European Union (EU) has never been concerned about saving the individual characteristics of the countries entering in it. The laws are the same for all of them. Both political and economic systems are sufficiently rigid. We can say that EU’s social system is authoritarian. Even in the Soviet Union, there were not rules that would define the size and shape of cucumbers brought to market or the amount of fish one is allowed to catch in a particular place. Now, countries want to determine for themselves the number of refugees they can take. Certainly there are many advantages to being an EU member state. Until now the benefits outweighed the inconveniences. But the desire to regain independence and the ability to decide one’s destiny began to dominate.

I believe that the population of the Great Britain (GB) wants to live as they want in accordance with their own historically formed habits and rules. The British have their history, culture, as well as their attitude on religion and the political structure of their country. I believe that people, and not the elite, felt the discomfort of the situation. In my opinion it would be better for the GB to develop outside of the EU.

A few words about democracy in connection with the discussion on the topic of Brexit. I believe that the United States, for instance, is a democratic country if we focus on its internal policy. (I am not speaking now about the additional safety measures, related to the terrorist threat. They are necessary.) Inside the country domestic laws defend every citizen. Any citizen has a right to preserve their religion, culture and political views. Let us then ask: Is it not possible, even necessary, if we want to be democratic, to look the same way at foreign countries? Can we consider every country as a living organism, which has its own history, culture, religion and habits? Maybe we do not like other political systems, because they are not democratic. But is this a reason to destroy them using a military force? I believe that is forbidden for any democratic country. If you are a democrat, your behavior must be democratic in any situation—both inside your own country and abroad. All countries are different, in the same way as all human beings are different, and communication between them will be successful only if there is a respect for the singularities of each of them. In the EU, such respect is absent.

One could say that globalization implies the existence of some common beginning for all countries and nations. But there are two features in contemporary world that are equally important. Globalization is the result of the formation of a specific type of civilization, informational-technological civilization where we have computers and information technology as a basis. Transmission of information to the other end of the world may take a fraction of a second. The world is changing radically and the new technologies bring people closer together. We are witnessing the awakening of national consciousness, seemingly long-forgotten customs, norms of behavior in everyday life, religious rituals and so on. It is not always this return to the past makes modern life better. Religious wars are one of such adverse consequences. At the same time, the relationships between nations cannot be realized without taking into consideration their differences.

The same is true in science. If we want to prove the superiority of one theory over another, we need to know this other theory, why we deny in it, and for what reasons. Only in this case can we establish a relationship with the predecessor. But past theories are presented in the context of current knowledge. While this is not the place to discuss the features of modern science, there are a few I would like to mention.

Context, which is a kind of soil for the birth of a new knowledge, contains not only knowledge of the past, but many other things that are not directly connected with scientific knowledge. Fuller calls on contexts when formulating the main problem of social epistemology. It means that in the result of a scientific study non-scientific elements must be present in some way, and that they require a consideration on an equal footing with scientific elements. From the beginning, the aim was not only to answer a scientific issue, but also to resolve social or economic problems without waiting for the knowledge gained to be applied to practical needs. Solving the Brexit problem once again justifies social epistemology as an expression of the essence of our thinking.

I believe that Fuller is interested in such an event as Brexit because it coincides with his thinking in the frame of social epistemology and helps us to understand its main ideas.

[1] “How should the pursuit of knowledge be organized, given that under normal circumstances knowledge is pursued by many human beings, each working on a more or less well-defined body of knowledge and each equipped with roughly the same imperfect cognitive capacities, albeit with varying degrees of access to one another’s activities?” Steve Fuller, Social Epistemolgy, 1988.

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