Science and Ideology


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Science as a Belief System

Science as a belief system

  • many sociologists see modern science as a product of the process of rationalisation that began with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th C.
  • some sociologists, such as S theorists argue that this has underumined R by changing the way we think and see the world.

Open Belief System:

  • according to Sir Karl Popper, science is an 'open' belief system where every scientists theories are open to scrutiny, criticism and testing by others.
  • science is governed by the principle of falsificationism - when scientists try and falsify existing theories, deliberatly seeking evidence to disprove them.

Closed belief system

  • while scientific knowledge is provisional, open to challenge and potentially disprovable R claims to have special, perfect knowledge of the absolute truth.
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  • Communism - scientific knowledge is not private property. scientists must share it with the scientific communist otherwise knowledge cannot grow.
  • Universalism - the truth or falsify of scientific knowledge is judged by universal, objective criteria and not a particular race, sex etc of the scientist who produces it.
  • Disinterestedness - this means being commited to discovering knowledge for its own sake. having to publish their findings makes it harder for scientists to practice fraud, since it enables others to check their claims
  • Organised Scepticism - no knowledge-claim is regarded as 'sacred'. every idea is open to questioning, criticism and objective investigation
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Self-sustaining Beliefs

  • circularity - each idea in the system is explained in terms of another idea within the system and so on, round and round
  • subsidiary explanation - e.g if the oracle fails, it may be explained away as due to the incorrect use of benge
  • denial of legitimacy to rivals - belief systems reject alternative worldviews by refusing to grant any legitimacy to their basic assumptions.
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Scientific Knowledge

the sociology of scientific knowledge

  • interpretivist sociologists have developed Kuhn's ideas further. they argue that all knowledge - including scientific knowledge- is socially cosntructed.
  • that is, rather than being objective truth, it is created by social groups using the resources available to them
  • in the case of science, scientific facts - those things that scientists take to be true and real - are the product of shared theories or paradigms that tell them what they should expect to see, and of the particular instruments they use.
  • thus, Karin Knorr-Cetina argues that the invention of new instruments, such as telescopes or microscopes, permits scientists to make new observations and construct or fabricate new facts
  • similarly, she points out that what scientists study in the laboratory is highly constructed and far removed from the natural world thwy they are supposedly studying.
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Marxism, Feminism and Postmodernism

marxism, feminism and postmodernism

  • other critical perspectives such as marxism and feminism see scientific knowledge as far from pure truth
  • instead, they regard it as serving the interests of dominant groups - the RC in the case of marxists, and men in the case of feminists.
  • thus, many advances in sup.posedly pure science have been driven by the need of capitalism for certain types of knowledge
  • similarly, biological ideas have been used to justify both male domination and colonial expansion. in this respect, science can be seen as a form of ideology
  • in a different sense, p-modernists also reject the knowledge-claims of science to have the truth
  • in the view of Lyotard,for example,science is one of a number of meta-narratives or big stories that falsely claim to possess the truth
  • other meta-narratives include R, marxism and psychoanalysis
  • in lyotards view, science falsely claims to offer the truth about how the world works as a means of progress to a better society, whereas, in reality, he argues, science is just on more discourse or way of thinking that it is used to dominate people
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  • a basic definition of ideology is that it is a worldview or a set of ieas and values - in other words its a belief system.

Marxism and Ideology

  • sees society as divided into two opposed classes: a minority capitalist RC who own the means of production and control the state, and a majority WC who are propertyless and therefore forced to sell their labour to the capitalists.
  • it is therefore in the workers interests to overthrow capitalism by means of a socialist revolution and replace it with a classless communist society in which the means of production are collectively, not privately, owned and used to benefit society as a whole
  • these produce RC ideology - ideas liegitmating the status quo (existing social set up)
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Ideology and Utopia

  • ideoloigcal thought justifies keepings things the way they are - it reflects the position and interests of privileged groups such as the capitalist class. these benefits from maintaining the status quo, so their belief system tends to be conservative and favours hierarchy
  • utopian thought justifies social change - it reflects the position and interests of the unprivileged and offers a vision of how society could be organised differently. e.g. the WC are disadvantaged by the status quo and may offer radical change to a classless society. Mannheim sees Marxism as an example of utopian thought
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Feminism and Ideology

  • sees gender inequality as the fundamental division and patriarchal ideology as playing a key role in legitimating it.
  • because gender difference is a feature of all societies, there exist many different ideologies to justify it, for example, Pauline Marks describes how ideas from science have been used to jsutify excluding women from education.
  • she quotes 19th C male doctors, scientists and educationalists expressing the view that education females would lead to the creation of a new race puny and unfeminine females and disqualify women from their true vocation, namely the nuturing of the next generation.
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Really good for revision =) thanks



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