Ideology and science

  • Created by: rdowd40
  • Created on: 03-06-19 12:40

Science as a belief system

Science and technology have had an enormous impact on society over the last few centuries, undermining religion and leading to a widespread 'faith in science'. The key feature of science is its cognitive power: science enables us to explain, predict and control the world. 

Science may cause problems as well as solve them, through 'manufactured risks' - e.g. pollution, global warming and weapons of mass destruction.

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Science as a belief system

Popper claims science is an 'open' belief system, open to criticism and testing.

  • Science is based on the principle of falsificationism: scientists try to falsify existing theories by seeking evidence to disprove them. If evidence contradicts a theory, the theory is discarded and a better one sought. In this way, knowledge grows.
  • However, scientific knowledge is not absolute truth. It can always be tested and potentially falsified. 

The CUDOS norms Merton argues that science as an organised social activity has a set of norms ('CUDOS') that promote the growth of knowledge by encouraging openness:

  • Communism Knowledge must be shared with the scientific community.
  • Universalism Scientific Knowledge is judged by universal, objective criteria (testing).
  • Disinterestedness Seeking knowledge for its own sake. 
  • Organised Scepticism Every theory is open to criticism and testing. 

Some argue that science is a self-sustaining, closed belief system. Polanyi argues that all belief systems reject fundamental challenges to their knowledge-claims - science is no different.

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Science as a belief system

Closed belief systems:

Horton distinguishes between open and closed belief systems. Like Popper, he sees science as an open belief system. However, religion is a closed belief system: it makes knowledge-claims that cannot be overturned.

  • A closed belief system has 'get-out clauses' that prevent it from being disproved in the eyes of its believers.
  • Polanyi argues that belief systems have three devices that sustain themselves in the face of contradictory evidence: culturally; subsidary explanations and denying legitimacy to rival beliefs. 
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Science as a belief system

Science as a closed system:

Scientific paradigms Kuhn argues that a science such as physics is based ona paradigm (a set of shared assumptions).

  • This tells scientists what reality is like, defining problems, methods, equipment and even likely research findings.
  • Most of the time, scientists are engaged in normal science within the paradigm. 
  • Scientists who challenge the paradigm are likely to be ridiculed - except during periods of scientific revolution, when accumulated evidence undermines it. 
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Science as a belief system

The sociology of scientific knowledge:

Interpretivists argue that scientific knowledge is socially constructed.

  • Knorr-Cetina argues that what scientists study in the laboratory is highly 'constructed' and far removed from the 'natural' world they are supposedly studying. 
  • Woolgar argues that scientists have to persuade the scientific community to accept their interpretations of the world. A scientific fact is simply a shared, socially constructed belief. 

Marxism, feminism and postmodernism:

Marxism and feminism see science as serving the interests of dominant groups - the ruling class or men respectively. Many scientific developments are driven by capitalism's need for knowledge to make profit. Postmodernists also reject science's claims to have 'the truth'. Some argue that science has become technoscience, serving capitalist interests by producing commodities for profit. 

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'Ideology' refers to a belief system, worldview or set of ideas. The term often includes negative aspects, e.g. beliefs that are false or offer a partial/biased view of reality; conceal the interests of a group or legitimate inequalities; prevent change by misleading people about the situation; are irrational and closed to criticism. 

Marxism and ideology:

Marxism sees society as divided into two opposed classes: a capitalist ruling class and a working class forced to sell their labour. 

  • The capitalist class exploit workers' labour to produce profit.
  • It is in the workers' interests to overthrow capitalism by revolution and create a classless communist society. However, revolution cannot occur until the working class become aware of the reality of their exploitation - class consciousness.
  • Ruling-class ideology or hegemony (ideological leadership of society) prevents class consciousness developing by legitimating capitalism. 

It may not be ideology that prevents attempts to overthrow capitalism, but economic fears (e.g. fear of unemployment) that keep workers from rebelling. 

  • However, Gramsci believes that ultimately the working class will overthrow capitalism, led by a party of class-consciousness 'organic intellectuals'.
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The ideology of nationalism:

Nationalism is an important political ideology. It claims that nations are real communities, each with its own unique characteristics. However, Anderson argues that a nation is only an 'imagined community' but nationalism can bind millions of strangers together and create a sense of common purpose.

  • Marxists see nationalism as false consciousness that helps to prevent the overthrow of capitalism by dividing the international working class.
  • Functionalists see nationalism as a secular civil religion that integrates everyone into a single community, regardless of differences such as religion or class. 
  • Gellner sees nationalism as a key feature of modernity. Industrialisation creates large- scale, impersonal societies with a complex division of labour. Nationalism uses education to impose a single-standard, national culture on every member of society, making communication and economic cooperation between strangers possible.                                                                        Gellner argues that elites also use nationalism as an ideology to motivate the population to endure the hardships that accompany industrialisation, thereby enabling a state to modernise. 
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Feminism and ideology:

Feminists see gender inequality as legitimated by patriarchal ideology:

  • Religious beliefs and practices often define women as inferior, e.g. menstruating women regarded as unclean and excluded from rituals. 

Not all religious belief systems subordinate women; e.g. before the monotheistic patriarchal religions, matriarchal religions were female deities were common. 

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