In 2012 Social Epistemology celebrates its 25th anniversary. For this reason, we repost Steve Fuller’s original statement of purpose from 1987. Let’s revisit Social Epistemology’s initial mission after twenty-five years.
SOCIAL EPISTEMOLOGY, 1987, VOL. 1, NO. 1, 1-4
Editor’s Note: In anticipation of Annual Meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) October 17-20, 2012, at the Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark, and the publication of Social Epistemology 26. 3-4, a special issue on the journal’s 25th anniversary, later this year, please take a look at, and feel free to comment on, Steve Fuller’s original statement of purpose (1987).
What is knowledge? During a contemplative mood, philosophers have defined it as truths that are believed for the right sort of reasons. In contrast, the more energetic members of the sciences have taken knowledge to be whatever allows us to control more of the world more reliably. Despite this discrepancy, these accounts are nevertheless about roughly the same thing, a set of texts that are produced so that, when read in the right way, afford human beings a greater understanding of their world. Being as sure as they are about what knowledge is, both the philosophers and the scientists try to come up with ways of increasing the production of these knowledge-bearing texts, usually under the rubric of ‘methodology’. This part of the story is familiar to the practitioners of many disciplines. Social Epistemology is founded, in part, on the idea that much of this story, as it has traditionally been told, seriously misrepresents the nature of our knowledge enterprises.
It is one thing to identify something, but quite another to specify the role it plays in the greater scheme of things. Although identifying the primary sources of knowledge — written matter — is easy enough, specifying the exact social function served by this written matter is much more difficult. Unfortunately, philosophers and scientists have traditionally obscured this issue by taking knowledge at face value, in terms of its ‘intended use’, so to speak. For example, a book on Newtonian mechanics is intended to be used as an abstract representation of much of the physical universe. If the book succeeds at its intended use (if it does represent physical reality), then the philosophers and scientists believe that they are well on their way toward their respective definitions of knowledge. And were you to ask them what exactly is the function of knowledge in society, they would simply repeat their definitions. For the philosophers and the scientists operate on the assumption that the function of knowledge in society is merely its intended use writ large. And so, if one book on Newtonian mechanics succeeds at representing the physical universe to one person, then many books in the hands of many people will have the same effect. Continue Reading…