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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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Chapter 14

Social Construction of Science

HARRY COLLINS

The study of the “social construction of science” refers to the analysis of social influences on the content of scientific knowledge. That there are social influences on what we count as knowledge is an old idea, most closely associated with Karl Mannheim whose writings gave rise to the subject “sociology of knowledge.” Quite simply, what people in different societies count as truth varies from society to society. What you believe depends on where you were born and how you were brought up. For example, it is impossible for an inhabitant of an Amazonian tribe to count it as true that market economies are better than command economies just as it is impossible for a Western economist to count certain complex claims about witches and spirits (I do not know how to say what they are) to be true. If you have not encountered the “knowledge,” then it cannot be part of your universe.

So far, so incontestable, but things get a bit more tricky as we come closer to home. If I am brought up in a Catholic community of Northern Ireland, I am likely to become a Catholic and believe that the wine turns to blood during the mass. If I am brought up in a Protestant community in the same country, I am likely to believe that the idea of the “change” is symbolic rather than real. Here two groups know about each other’s beliefs, and so it is less obvious that they must be bound by upbringing. And, indeed, some people change their beliefs. Still, most ...

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