A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour

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Since the 1950s, many philosophers of science have attacked positivism—the theory that scientific knowledge is grounded in objective reality. Reconstructing the history of these critiques, John H. Zammito argues that while so-called postpositivist theories of science are very often invoked, they actually provide little support for fashionable postmodern approaches to science studies.

Zammito shows how problems that Quine and Kuhn saw in the philosophy of the natural sciences inspired a turn to the philosophy of language for resolution. This linguistic turn led to claims that science needs to be situated in both historical and social contexts, but the claims of recent "science studies" only deepened the philosophical quandary. In essence, Zammito argues that none of the problems with positivism provides the slightest justification for denigrating empirical inquiry and scientific practice, delivering quite a blow to the "discipline" postmodern science studies.

Filling a gap in scholarship to date, A Nice Derangement of Epistemes will appeal to historians, philosophers, philosophers of science, and the broader scientific community.

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About the Author:

John H. Zammito is the John Antony Weir Professor of History at Rice University. He is the author, most recently, of Kant, Herder, and the Birth of Anthropology and of The Genesis of Kant's Critique of Judgment, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


“Philosophers of science, science-studies practitioners, and science educators will find Zammito’s quasi-history of the post-positivist nature-of-science debates useful and formidable and sufficiently balanced to satisfy most if not all political and epistemological tastes.”

(Steven Turner Science Education)

“Zammito is admirably evenhanded, arguing always with nuance and never with a bludgeon. His book can almost be read as a cautious defense of social and cultural studies of science, although his was moved to write it, he explains, by his distress at the postmodern abandonment of the ideal of truth.”

(Theodore M. Porter American Historical Review)

“Zammito systematically examines the philosophical movements of postpositivism (such as the linguistic turn, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and deconstructionism) with the aim of demonstrating that the extravagances of these movements resulted in the undermining of empirical scientific inquiry, natural as well as social. . . . Zammito’s analyses are thorough and well documented.”


“Zammito sets out to trace the story of the development of anti-empiricist philosophy, that is, philosophy and sociology that deny that there can be decisive, objective, empirical evidence for any scientific claim. . . . His book is, in the end, a cautionary tale about academic standards, defending history, philosophy, and sociology of science. Some have gone too far, Zammito claims and we must return to what he calls ‘moderate historicism.’ ”

(David J. Stump Isis)

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