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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  and measured, 12 and could be used, following Nussbaum, to predict how emergent emotions are understood and managed by individuals with differing values. My argument also is that the sciences, contrary to some realist assertions, do not assume that the world can be objectively known. In fact, it is more consistent with scientific method and practice to assume that the social and physical world can never be conclusively “known.” Rather, all knowledge is probabilistic. Scientific method is a means for accumulating evidence. The evidence is constrained both by the questions scientists think of asking (a social and historical, and sometimes political constraint) and by the methods they have available for observation, measurement, and analysis. In fact, a distinguished philosopher of science, Ian Hacking, argues that both positivists and pragmatists (who will be discussed in more detail below) are fundamentally anti-realists. 13 We can only know what we can scientifically confirm. Since scientific confirmation is never final, we never know, we only approximate. In this view, I, and I believe most thoughtful physical and social scientists, heartily concur. Scientists can never be certain that their knowledge is complete; rather, they must assume incomplete knowledge based on unasked questions and incompletely or imperfectly observed phenomena. However, I would qualify Hacking’s critique in one important respect. Such a position is not anti-realist. Its virtue, in fact, is the bridging of realist and anti-realist positions. As Hacking also notes, scientific method—observation, experiment, analysis— presume the reality of phenomena under study. However, that reality—like Kant’s “thing in itself”—cannot be known, though it is presumed to exist (McGuire and Tuchanska provide a thorough discussion of these issues). 14 Rather, scientific method exists to provide an increasingly precise and nuanced description of the phenomena under study.

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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and measured,
12
and could be used, following Nussbaum, to predict how emergent emotions
are understood and managed by individuals with differing values.
My argument also is that the sciences, contrary to some realist assertions, do not
assume that the world can be objectively known. In fact, it is more consistent with scientific
method and practice to assume that the social and physical world can never be conclusively
“known.” Rather, all knowledge is probabilistic. Scientific method is a means for
accumulating evidence. The evidence is constrained both by the questions scientists think of
asking (a social and historical, and sometimes political constraint) and by the methods they
have available for observation, measurement, and analysis.
In fact, a distinguished philosopher of science, Ian Hacking, argues that both
positivists and pragmatists (who will be discussed in more detail below) are fundamentally
anti-realists.
13
We can only know what we can scientifically confirm. Since scientific
confirmation is never final, we never know, we only approximate. In this view, I, and I
believe most thoughtful physical and social scientists, heartily concur. Scientists can never
be certain that their knowledge is complete; rather, they must assume incomplete knowledge
based on unasked questions and incompletely or imperfectly observed phenomena.
However, I would qualify Hacking’s critique in one important respect. Such a
position is not anti-realist. Its virtue, in fact, is the bridging of realist and anti-realist
positions. As Hacking also notes, scientific method—observation, experiment, analysis—
presume the reality of phenomena under study. However, that reality—like Kant’s “thing in
itself”—cannot be known, though it is presumed to exist (McGuire and Tuchanska provide
a thorough discussion of these issues).
14
Rather, scientific method exists to provide an
increasingly precise and nuanced description of the phenomena under study.


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