A lot of philosophers of science try to explain what science is through a normative approach. That it, they try to show what are norms and standards the satisfaction of which make a theory or practice scientific.

Now, with recent views in social epistemology, science seem to require a social aspect. I am looking for views in philosophy of science that consider such social aspect of science and scientific work. I am aware of Helen Longino's view, which is an example of such social approach to philosophy of science. I am looking for other views which take a social approach.

  • 1
    What you are looking for is called sociology of scientific knowledge, see Wikipedia and SEP, see also Science and technology studies.
    – Conifold
    Nov 24, 2018 at 1:24
  • 3
    Longino herself wrote in SEP "The Social Dimensions of Scientific Knowledge" and revised it 2015.
    – sand1
    Nov 24, 2018 at 18:11

5 Answers 5


The most comprehensive text that I have run into outlining precisely how the philosophy of positive science -- the study of purportedly rational theory choice -- was conquered by the history/sociology of science, a process which started with the concepts of holism and indeterminacy in the early/mid 20th Century and culminated in the so called Strong Program of "science studies" several decades later (with the latter set in motion by [some say opportunistic mis-readings of] Thomas Kuhn) is John Zammito’s 2004 A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-Positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour. (https://www.amazon.com/Nice-Derangement-Epistemes-Post-positivism-Science/dp/0226978621

To understand the movement from the postmodern relativism of science studies' radical reflexivity to today’s "post-positivistic realism”, essentially socially constructed realism based upon the purported superior epistemological status of lived experiences, located or situated knowledge, stand-point theory etc., you might want to have a look at Satya Mohanty’s (1997) Literary Theory and the Claims of History: Postmodernism, Objectivity, Multicultural Politics. (https://www.amazon.com/Literary-Theory-Claims-History-Postmodernism/dp/080148135X/ref=sr_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1543108646&sr=1-9&keywords=mohanty)

These books are rich in references and citations, which will likely direct you to virtually all of the primary texts in the areas of science studies and critical literary theory as of the turn of the cenury. I have asked for recommendations of other texts of this kind here: Looking for a book to compliment Zammito and Mohanty in understanding the ethos of post positivistic realism.


In the 1980s and 1990s, feminist philosophers played a significant role in bringing attention to the social and political aspects of science. This was around the same time as, but basically independent of, the development of Science and Technology Studies and some major changes in sociology of science. Along with the answers above, I'd recommend the Stanford Encyclopedia article on feminist social epistemology.


Other answers and comments so far have mentioned the sociology of scientific knowledge, and science and technology Studies (STS). The recommendations below are related to the sociology of science / scientific knowledge.

  • One author you should look into is Ludwik Fleck (1896 – 1961), a Polish microbiologist and immunologist whose views on science did not take physics as a model and looked at social processes among the scientific community. He developed the concepts of "though style" (German: Denkstil) and "thought collective" (German: Denkkollektiv). (Fleck published these theories in German, even though it was not his native langugage). See his monograph Entstehung und Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlichen Tatsache (1935; English translation: Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact).
  • Thomas Kuhn admitted having been influenced by Fleck's ideas in the foreword to his The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Due to its influence on the field of sociology of science, this book is a must-read in this area.
  • Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts (1979) by Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar is an anthropological or sociological study of the work in a specific research laboratory and was also very influential.
  • Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society (1987) by Bruno Latour is about scientific knowledge as it is being created (as opposed to what Latour calls "ready made science").

The interdisciplinary area you’re looking for is Science and Technology Studies. ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_technology_studies ), which is basically a sociology of science.

Key journals seem to be Technology and culture and Science, Technology, and Human Values.

The wiki article has an extensive (perhaps too extensive) description of the field’s works and publications embedded in an annoying narrative.

  • But the question asked for “views in philosophy of science” and it’s a stretch to consider STS that. Nov 30, 2018 at 1:06

At base, the most popular among those normative approaches themselves are social, at least starting from the generation after Karl Popper, who may be behind your whole 'lot' of philosophers of science.

The overall approach of the school of Kuhn, and the thread of Feyerabend immediately to its 'left' are both entirely social interpretations, even though one is also entirely normative and the other suggests a normative base exists but is better left implicit. Between them, these three names capture the classical arguments.

Thomas Kuhn proposes that what makes a science is a paradigm, a shared model that has enough traction to allow for 'normal science' to take the form of 'puzzle solving' without too blatantly ignoring obvious 'anomalies'. But all of the terms involved are negotiated social constructs. What is 'enough traction'? What makes something simple enough to be a 'puzzle' and not a genuine philosophical problem? When is ignoring something 'too blatant'? All of those are sociological questions, and the discipline will shift when the community as a whole loses consensus and feels any of those subjective lines have been crossed. But that is another socially negotiated boundary -- who is inside and who is outside that community, so that their opinion even lends weight? Kuhn's model of science is really as a sociological process, though a basically conservative one that tries to freeze each consciously negotiated political consensus in place as long as possible.

Paul Feyerabend denies that a discipline even needs a single paradigm, and proposes that even this kind of consensus management is counterproductive. He encourages an unarticulated sense of what is and what is not productive contribution based on a completely social view of who does and who does not get read.

He motivates this lack of boundaries by elaborating the problems faced by Galileo and bases his overall approach in a theory of the meaning of stories, which he grounds in the evolution of hieroglyphic representation and war stories.

So he does not see science as something arbitrary. The direction Galileo moved was forward in a subjective but easily understood sense, and the ability to incorporate theories and models into stories is a real process that he considers a central part of knowing what is and is not science. He explains himself well enough that it is no longer mysterious how he can reject Lysenkoism and approve of traditional Chinese medicine as a useful scientific process. But it is overall a vague, shared psychological/sociological process.

Feyerabend's primary work is addressed to Imre Lakatos, who tries to negotiate a proper balance between Kuhn and Popper, and who may be seen as a good touchpoint to the whole argument.

  • In addition to Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend (whose views and contributions are, absolutely relevant, essential, in this context), you may have wanted to include one of Kuhn’s mentors, Quine, upon whose shoulders (with Popper’s) Kuhn and Feyerabend stood, in that they were instrumental in dismantling/”deconstructing” positivistic/empiricist epistemology and the philosophy of science. BTW, in this context, I very much appreciated your [I assume] term/neologism: “consensus management,” a concept that itself would be profitable to acknowledged and unpack.
    – gonzo
    Dec 2, 2018 at 0:01
  • @gonzo Quine did not include the history of science in his work, so he was more properly still a logician and not a philosopher of science. He was obviously important, but I think he was doing something deeper than what the question touches upon. Quine's work was really about thinking in general more than about scientific progress.
    – user9166
    Dec 4, 2018 at 0:03
  • Agreed. Though a relatively straight line can be drawn from Quine's naturalistic epistemology, through Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend , leading to the melding of history, philosophy and sociology of science giving rise to the strong program of Science Studies.
    – gonzo
    Dec 4, 2018 at 2:37
  • @gonzo Right, that line just leads outside the philosophy of science proper, so I left it out of the answer. Otherwise we would constantly be tracing things back to Aristotle.
    – user9166
    Dec 4, 2018 at 18:18

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