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На мосту интерпретаций: Р. Мертон и социальная эпистемология

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На мосту интерпретаций: Р. Мертон и социальная эпистемология

Порус Владимир Натанович

НИУ Высшая школа экономики, Москва, Россия


Социологическая концепция “этоса науки” Р. Мертона рассматривается с точки зрения ее социально- эпистемологического содержания. Как “социальная эпистемология”, эта концепция служит одним из источников мифа о “большой науке”, сыгравшего заметную роль в философии науки ХХ века. Критика этой концепции может рассматриваться как спор различных эпистемологических интерпретаций социологических данных о науке и действиях ученых в исследовательских ситуациях.


On the Bridge of Interpretations: R. Merton and Social Epistemology

Porus Vladimir N.

National Research University – Higher School of Economics, Moscow

In the last century, the relationship between sociology of knowledge and philosophy could have become the plot thread for a narrative about mutual concord and discord. This love story persists in the current century, and the child grown up by that love is social epistemology, which gives rise to a relevant question: how is the latter possible? Or rather, how is this philosophical discipline possible? Sometimes the response to this question is “negative”: they say that it is a “sub-discipline in the sociology of knowledge that presumes that traditional epistemological problems should be solved by sociological methods and means”. What can be opposed to this “negation”? A difficult path would be chosen by those who regard social epistemology as a “post-non-classical theory of cognition”. What is social epistemology needed for? Perhaps its mission is to solve in practice the contradictions that defy a theoretical solution: what is required is not to rack one’s brain over universal epistemological problems, but rather to work on particular case studies and to recount the findings in more precise and clear terms. Social epistemology serves as sort of a bridge between philosophy and specific scientific studies of inquiry; its goal is to attach philosophical meaning to the latter, and to land philosophical reasoning from the heaven of abstraction onto the soil of facts and empirical studies. Difficult questions arise. Firstly, is it clear who might need this bridge? Will there be volunteers among scholars to cross it in the direction of philosophy? Secondly, the bridge is swaying, and both its supports are unstable. One of them is insecure because philosophy is fundamentally pluralistic, the other because particular epistemological disciplines cannot off er any “pure facts” and “empirical generalizations” that are exempt from epistemological interpretations. If the bridge is really needed I would call it the Bridge of Interpretations. It looks like no paper written by philosophers since the 1950s, as far as the ethos of science is concerned, has managed to do without references to R. Merton’s works. They involved basic guidelines for scientists to follow in their activities, as well as the idea that these guidelines make up a set of conditions under which science functions and advances in the “right” way. It is believed that the conclusion about the universal character of the ethos of science and values in science that make its existence possible was made by Merton on the basis of historical and sociological analyses of scientific institutions. If this is true, it is a conclusion made by an epistemological sociologist, and its philosophical meaning can be found through the appropriate interpretations. Some philosophers have liked this concept, others have criticized it, but all of them have tried to find in Merton’s observations and conclusions things that corroborate with their own ideas on science and scientists’ ethics. This interpretation is possible in relation to all norms in Merton’s scientific ethos. But do these norms allow another interpretation? Is it possible that Merton’s theory of the ethos of science could emerge in the form of a different socio-epistemological theory? The Bridge of Interpretations sees a complicated interaction between interpreting and interpreted statements. The philosophical perspective on evidence from sociologists is changeable; if not the data then their selection. A question follows: are the disciplinary norms inferred from sociological studies or are they the outcomes of a certain philosophical interpretation of the latter? The normative ethos of science as presented by Merton was a result of a certain concept of “ideal science.” This served as a “sieve” to identify facts with sociological meaning and then to take into consideration other facts that correspond basically to the chosen concept. Then it should be acknowledged that this concept serves as a scheme to interpret sociological facts, and subsequently the theory of an ethos in science must be assigned to social epistemology. So it follows that criticism from the side of alternative interpretations of scientific development (T. Kuhn, S. Toulmin, J. Agassi, P. Feyerabend and so on) is an argument between philosophical theories rather than attempts to find empirical proofs or refutations. All this is a competition between philosophical interpretations of the development of science. When pursuing a comparison, the argument takes place on an oscillating Bridge which is swinging more intensively due to efforts of the contentious participants. Merton himself, in order to support his interpretive scheme, declared the facts to be proofs of a beahavioral “pathology”, revealing that the real conduct of scientists differs greatly from the “normative” ideal. Later on, Merton’s interpretive scheme came under reproofs: its descriptions and explanations of scientific reality were allegedly wrong. This criticism is sometimes presented as “further development in Mertonian sociology of science” and sometimes as a split with it. These criticisms are obviously directed against Merton’s method of sociological studies, and not against their philosophical interpretation. This criticism of Mertonian theory can be considered typical. Nevertheless, behind this criticism one can discern a confrontation of various epistemologies. When the tension of disagreements dropped, the time of ironical criticism of any normative perceptions of science came. What is the worth of this normative approach if it is so easy to substitute anti-norms for norms that show a frustrating symmetry between positive and negative modalities of scientists’ behavior? During the general functional crisis in science the behavioral norms of scientists in this country persist in a more or less stable condition of survival. They even support the hopes that Russian science will overcome its comatose state. It is quite possible that in this crisis scientists’ disinterestedness will become a principle of the scientific ethos that passes us collectively through a decisive test. After that it would not be so easy to make ironic remarks on the state of science. I will say in conclusion the following and would like to not be misunderstood. Considering the Mertonian sociology of knowledge as one approach in social epistemology, I do not detract from the scientific value of these studies, and I do not disparage the kind of science to which they belong. Quite the contrary: it is because these studies assimilate scientific methodology and data along with philosophical interpretation that they have produced a certain cultural awareness which accompanies the entire history of Mertonian sociology of science. It makes R. Merton’s contribution to science and philosophy, and further on to the present-day culture, so distinguished.