Beliefs in Society - Science as a Belief system

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 27-03-15 09:19

Science as an open belief system

Popper: Believes science is an open belief system. He believes science is governed by the principle of falsification. This is where scientists set out to try to falsify existing theories, deliberately seeking evidence to disprove them. In this way it allows the scientific understanding of the world to grow.

Merton: Believes that science too is an open system but argues that science can only thrive as a major social institution if it receives support from other institutions and values. He also argues that science as an institution needs an ‘ethos’ or set of norms that make scientists act in ways that serve the goal of increasing scientific knowledge, these are known as the CUDOS norms. (Communism: scientific knowledge must be shared; Universalism: the truth/falsity of the knowledge is judged by a set of objective criteria not the race/gender ext. of the scientist; Disinterestedness: committed to discovering knowledge for the fun of it; Organised scepticism: nothing is ever 100% correct.)

Horeton: Sees science as an open belief system where knowledge claims are open to criticism and can be disproved by testing.

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Science as a closed belief system

Kuhn: Argues that science is a closed system and is based on a set of shared assumptions that he calls a paradigm. The paradigm lays down the broad outlines and the scientists’ job is to carefully fill in the details, those that do so are rewarded with bigger research grants. Any scientist who challenges the paradigm is likely to be ridiculed and hounded out of the paradigm. The only exception to this is during a scientific revolution, when the truth of the existing paradigm has been undermined by a number of anomalies that the paradigm cant account for so a new paradigm/paradigm shift occurs.

Woolgar: Argues that all knowledge including scientific knowledge is socially constructed.  In the case of science, ‘scientific facts’ are the product of shared theories and paradigms.  Scientists are engaged in the same process of ‘making sense’ of the world as everybody else. When confronted with evidence from observations they have to decide what it means by devising and applying theories/explanations and then have to persuade others to accept them.

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Science as a closed belief system

Marxism and Feminism: See scientific knowledge as far from the truth. They see it as serving the interests of dominant groups. Thus advances in ‘pure science’ have been driven by the need of capitalism for certain types of knowledge. For example theoretical work on ballistics was driven by the need to develop new weaponry.

Lyotard: A postmodernist, also rejects the knowledge claims of science to have ‘the truth’. He sees science as one of many meta-narratives that falsely claim to have the truth. He considers that science is just one way of thinking that is used to dominate people.

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Science and Ideology

Gramsci: As a Marxist Gramsci believes that the ruling class produce ruling-class ideologies which are ideas that legitimate/justify the status quo. The dominant ideas of the ruling class function to prevent change by creating a false class-consciousness. Gramsci refers to this ideological domination as hegemony and argues that the working class can develop ideas that challenge the ruling class hegemony. He argues that workers have a dual consciousness and that it is therefore possible for the working class to develop class-consciousness and overthrow capitalism. This would require ‘organic intellectuals’ who are individuals who have developed a class consciousness and can spread it through the working class.

Evaluation of Gramsci: Some argue that the working class are aware of the ruling class ideology however it is economic factors such as fear of unemployment that stop workers from rebelling.

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Science and ideology

Mannheim: Sees all belief as a partial or one sided worldview. He distinguishes between two broad types of belief system/worldview:
Ideological thought – which justifies keeping things as they are. It reflects the position and interests of privileged groups and benefit from maintaining the status quo, so their belief system tends to be conservative and favours hierarchy.
Utopian thought – Justifies social change. It reflects the positions and interests of the underprivileged and offers a vision of how society could be organised differently. Mannheim sees Marxism as an example of utopian thought.
For Mannheim this is a source of conflict in society as different intellectuals linked to different groups/classes produce opposite and antagonistic ideas. His solution is to create a non-aligned or free-floating intelligentsia standing above the conflict in order to arrive at a ‘total’ worldview that represents the interests of society as a whole.

Evaluation of Mannheim: It is impossible to get a free-floating intelligentsia as you cannot get somebody completely neutral that has not been influenced by any part of society, and even if you did it would be extremely unethical.

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