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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  This probabilistic view of knowledge also is not foreign to positivist formulations, of course. Positivists appear in general to have been averse to pursuing its possible metaphysical implications. Scientists, of course, have no reason to pursue such implications, except avocationally. To the extent that positivists accept this perspective, however, they depart from traditional Enlightenment thought. Reason does not lead to Truth. Rather, we make continued progress (both an Enlightenment and modernist value) towards an ever- receding horizon—our predictive models improve; our certainty regarding physical or social realities can never be final. We deal in improving approximations, not representations. Science and Postmodernism The fragmented world of the postmodernist differs from the scientist’s pastiche of theories and ideas largely in that the latter can organize them hierarchically in terms of relative degree of empirical support; a hierarchy that is subject to continual rearrangement. Moreover, scientific progress is characterized by increased awareness of the lacunae in the canon—the blank spots where we know little or nothing, and perhaps are without (at least for a while) the methods and tools for filling them in. The actual world of the scientist—as opposed to the tidier vision of science as envisioned in the optimism of the Enlightenment—is similar in other respects to the world of the postmodernist. There are few grand narratives concerning substantive claims, especially in the social sciences (though the method itself, arguably, may come closest). A lot is known about many different things…the “local narratives” are well-evolved in the sciences. Only in the most abstract disciplines such as theoretical physics do we find anything that approximates a substantive grand narrative, and there the narrative quickly breaks up into a cacophony of alternative accounts revolving around the few well-evidenced themes. Again, where the scientific and post-modern accounts conflict is primarily in the

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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This probabilistic view of knowledge also is not foreign to positivist formulations, of
course. Positivists appear in general to have been averse to pursuing its possible
metaphysical implications. Scientists, of course, have no reason to pursue such implications,
except avocationally. To the extent that positivists accept this perspective, however, they
depart from traditional Enlightenment thought. Reason does not lead to Truth. Rather, we
make continued progress (both an Enlightenment and modernist value) towards an ever-
receding horizon—our predictive models improve; our certainty regarding physical or social
realities can never be final. We deal in improving approximations, not representations.
Science and Postmodernism
The fragmented world of the postmodernist differs from the scientist’s pastiche of
theories and ideas largely in that the latter can organize them hierarchically in terms of
relative degree of empirical support; a hierarchy that is subject to continual rearrangement.
Moreover, scientific progress is characterized by increased awareness of the lacunae in the
canon—the blank spots where we know little or nothing, and perhaps are without (at least
for a while) the methods and tools for filling them in.
The actual world of the scientist—as opposed to the tidier vision of science as
envisioned in the optimism of the Enlightenment—is similar in other respects to the world
of the postmodernist. There are few grand narratives concerning substantive claims,
especially in the social sciences (though the method itself, arguably, may come closest). A lot
is known about many different things…the “local narratives” are well-evolved in the
sciences. Only in the most abstract disciplines such as theoretical physics do we find
anything that approximates a substantive grand narrative, and there the narrative quickly
breaks up into a cacophony of alternative accounts revolving around the few well-evidenced
themes. Again, where the scientific and post-modern accounts conflict is primarily in the


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