Constructivism for Philosophers (Be it a Remark on Realism)07 November 2011
Bereft of the illusion of an epistemic vantage point external to science, what should be our commitment towards the categories, concepts and terms of that very science? Should we, despaired of the possibility to found these concepts on rock bottom, adopt empiricist skepticism? Or perhaps the inexistence of external foundations implies, rather, immunity for scientific ontology from epistemological criticism? Philosophy’s “realism debate” died out without providing a satisfactory answer to the dilemma, which was taken over by the neighboring disciplines. The “symmetry principle” of the “Strong Programme” for the sociology of science-the requirement that truth and error receive the same kind of causal explanations-offered one bold metaphysical answer, under the guise of a methodological decree. Recently, however, it has been argued that this solution is not bold enough, that the social constructivists replaced the naïve presumption of an independent nature which adjudicates our beliefs with a mirror-image presumption of a sui generis society which furnishes these beliefs autonomously. The proper metaphysics for a foundationless epistemology,argues Bruno Latour, is one which grants nature and society, object and subject, equal roles in the success and failure of science and technology; one in which history of society merges with a history of things-in-themselves. The paper analyzes the philosophical and methodological motivations and ramifications of this extraordinary suggestion.