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Stephen Jay Gould on Objectivity and Science

Twenty-five years after N. R. Hanson, T. S. Kuhn, and so many other historians and philosophers began to map out the intricate interpenetrations of fact and theory, and of science and society, the rationale for such a simplistic one-way flow from observation to theory has become entirely bankrupt. Science may differ from other intellectual activity in its focus upon the construction and operation of natural objects. But scientists are not robotic inducing machines that infer structures of explanation only from regularities observed in natural phenomena (assuming, as I doubt, that such a style of reasoning could ever achieve success in principle). Scientists are human beings, immersed in culture, and struggling with all the curious tools of inference that mind permits — from metaphor and analogy to all the flights of fruitful imagination that C. S. Pierce called ‘abduction.’ Prevailing culture is not always the enemy identified by whiggish history­in this case the theological restrictions on time that led early geologists to miracle-mongering in the catastrophist mode. Culture can potentiate as well as constrain­as in Darwin’s translation of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economic models into biology as the theory of natural selection. In any case, objective minds to not exist outside culture, so we must make the best of our ineluctable embedding.


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