Document Type

Book Chapter


Professor Smith, to his class: This semester we've been looking at cultural contradictions of science, including contradictory popular images of science as liberator and science as oppressor, contradictory views of scientific research as autonomous and as socially determined, and contradictory conceptualizations of scientific practice as formal method and as localized craft activity. To conclude, I'd like to mention something we haven't covered: the idea of alternative science. Nicholas Maxwell, a philosopher of science, describes existing science as conforming to what he calls the "philosophy of knowledge." Knowledge is the goal, without any judgment about how that knowledge will be used. In other words, knowledge is seen as a good in itself, indeed almost an overriding good. Maxwell (1984, 1992) subscribes to an alternative that he calls the "philosophy of wisdom." In this vision, science would be oriented to solving pressing human problems, including hunger, inequality, environmental degradation, war, and oppression. Maxwell notes that lots of scientific research is driven by military and corporate funding, and that some of the world's most talented scientists and engineers devote their efforts to designing more ingenious fragmentation bombs or detergents that leave your dishes sparklingly clean. So here we have another contradiction: science, a system designed for creating objective knowledge actually ends up creating knowledge that is mainly useful to vested interests.