Submitted by syntaxfactory on July 3, 2012 - 3:30am
Review of Rehg, W. (2009). Cogent science in context: The science wars, argumentation theory, and Habermas. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
The beginning of the so-called “science wars” in the 1960s is the academic consequence of a complex set of causes amongst which the fall of logical empiricism and the birth of quantum physics occupy a significant place. The central problem is easy to formulate but surprisingly difficult to solve: how can scientific knowledge be at the same time rational but not formally logical? This trend challenged defenders of Science (capital S!) to develop conceptions of scientific rationality that are more realistic than the logical ones developed by, e.g. Rudolf Carnap and Carl Hempel in the 1920s and 1930s. This “gap” is sometimes referred to as Kuhn’s Gap since for the first time it became plainly visible (and urgent) in Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 Structure of scientific revolutions (Kuhn, 1996). William Rehg’s book reviews suggestions that have been given to this fill this gap and ultimately attempts one of his own, centred on the notion of cogency in a critical contextualist framework. For William, the answer is in a re-conceptualization of the notion of cogency as a boundary concept which integrates both a normative-dialectical idea of argument strength and a psychological-rhetorical one of convincingness.
But is argumentation theory the right tool? Of course scientists argue and perhaps they do so very often, but is this an essential aspect of what they are engaged in? Isn’t science also something else aside from discourse? The criticism embodied in these questions is in fact a warning against over-emphasis on the linguistic aspects of scientific activity; it is a warning that the context of discovery might be disregarded in favour of the context of justification. This criticism is responded at the very beginning of the study in two ways. First he points to the rather feeble basis of the discovery/justification distinction a remark which is supported by studies of actual experimental practice (Mayo, 1996).Second, he assures us that an argumentation theoretical approach takes into consideration the “material” context as well as the “discursive” one for (1) trying to improve one’s experimental method is a way of producing better arguments by using it and (2) experimental practices are heavily oriented towards the production of public knowledge (p. 19)...