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Scandalous Knowledge

Science, Truth and the Human

Barbara Herrnstein Smith

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This book explores the radical reconceptions of knowledge and science emerging from constructivist epistemology, social studies of science, and contemporary cognitive science. Smith reviews the key issues involved in the twentieth-century critiques of traditional views of human knowledge and scientific truth and gives an extensively informed explanation of the alternative accounts developed by Fleck, Kuhn, Foucault, Latour, and others. She also addresses the various anxieties (e.g., over ‘relativism’) and ‘wars’ occasioned by these developments, placing them in their historical contexts and arguing that they are largely misplaced or spurious. Smith then examines the currently perplexed relations between the natural and human sciences, the grandiose claims and dubious methods of evolutionary psychology, and the complex play of naturalist, humanist, and posthumanist ideologies in contemporary views of the relation between humans and animals.


1. Introduction: Scandals of Knowledge
2. Pre-Post-Modern Relativism
3. Netting Truth: Ludwik Fleck's Constructivist Genealogy
4. Cutting-Edge Equivocation: Conceptual Moves and Rhetorical Strategies in Contemporary Anti-Epistemology
5. Disciplinary Cultures and Tribal Warfare: The Sciences and the
Humanities Today
6. Super Natural Science: The Claims of Evolutionary Psychology
7. Animal Relatives, Difficult Relations
Works Cited

About the Author

Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English at Duke University and director of its Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Cultural Theory, and Distinguished Professor of English at Brown University. Her publications include Contingencies of Value: Alternative Perspectives for Critical Theory (1988) and Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy (1997). Smith is an honorary fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Scandalously unimpressed by the charges, countercharges, and 'prudent' middle paths found in current disputes over science and truth, Barbara Herrnstein Smith deploys her ferocious intelligence, wicked wit, and broad understanding to provide us with a tonic mixture of empathy and resources for taking positions that are both informed and responsible. She does not flinch before the barrage of outrages; neither, this book in hand, need we.
- Susan Oyama, author of Evolution's Eye: A Systems View of the Biology-Culture Divide
Professor Herrnstein Smith’s work is known for its rigor, clarity, and cogency. The chief contribution of this book is to present a more historical, complex, and nuanced discussion of the epistemological issues at stake in the "science wars" than has hitherto been the norm.
- N. Katherine Hayles, John Charles Hillis Professor of Literature, English Department, University of California, Los Angeles

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