Cogent Science in Context
The Science Wars, Argumentation Theory, and Habermas
360 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: August 19, 2011
- Published: December 5, 2008
A proposal for an interdisciplinary, context-sensitive framework for assessing the strength of scientific arguments that melds Jürgen Habermas's discourse theory and sociological contextualism.
Recent years have seen a series of intense, increasingly acrimonious debates over the status and legitimacy of the natural sciences. These “science wars” take place in the public arena—with current battles over evolution and global warming—and in academia, where assumptions about scientific objectivity have been called into question. Given these hostilities, what makes a scientific claim merit our consideration? In Cogent Science in Context, William Rehg examines what makes scientific arguments cogent—that is, strong and convincing—and how we should assess that cogency. Drawing on the tools of argumentation theory, Rehg proposes a multidimensional, context-sensitive framework both for understanding the cogency of scientific arguments and for conducting cooperative interdisciplinary assessments of the cogency of actual scientific arguments. Rehg closely examines Jürgen Habermas's argumentation theory and its implications for understanding cogency, applying it to a case from high-energy physics. A series of problems, however, beset Habermas's approach. In response, Rehg outlines his own “critical contextualist” approach, which uses argumentation-theory categories in a new and more context-sensitive way inspired by ethnography of science.
Rehg brilliantly summarizes the major debates in philosophy of science over the nature of discovery, explanation, and persuasion that have occurred over the last half century while also providing the most informed critique of Habermasian discourse theory yet to appear. His judicious use of real -life examples drawn from Fermilab and elsewhere and his extension of argument theory to include the social visions that frame current hot-button academic disputes regarding global warming and Intelligent design make his book extremely timely and indispensable reading for lay persons trying to assess scientific journalism and reporting. Rehg's riveting account of cogency will revolutionize the way critical theorists, logicians, and rhetoricians think about argumentation in general and, more particularly, about how we should assess the social institutionalization of collaborative research and debate in science proper for years to come.
David Ingram, Loyola University Chicago
In bringing the disparate poles of Habermasian argumentation theory and the thickly descriptive approach of ethnomethodology together in the form of a new 'critical contextualism,' Rehg has provided a realistic basis for overcoming the 'science wars' divide between the philosophical and the social scientific—the prescriptive and the descriptive—approaches to understanding science. Just when 'science studies' has begun to explore a 'normative turn,' Rehg's clearly written and rigorously argued book provides a new interdisciplinary framework and point of departure for charting the way ahead that neither practitioners of science studies, philosophers of science nor science policymakers can afford to ignore.
Lenny Moss, Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of Exeter