In the introduction to Massimo Pigliucci's book Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem, a collection of essays about the topic, I found the following bit:

(...) we purposefully steered clear from the kind of sociology inspired by social constructivism and postmodernism, which we regard as a type of pseudoscience in its own right (...)

Before, I had heard of the Sokal Affair (which I found funny while of lousy faith on Sokal's side). Then, while reading one of the essays, I stumbled upon a Popper anecdote in which he also thought of postmodernism (and Marxism) as something to be avoided at all costs.

At first, I thought it was a political thing (that's why I mention Popper's stance on Marx). I've been consuming Cuck Philosophy's videos on YouTube. I've honestly been pretty pleased by poststructuralist and postmodern philosophy (to be fair, I do not formally study philosophy and am just starting to explore on my own).

Is the philosophy of science so contrary to postmodernism? If so, why? Has it anything to do with the feud between Continental and Analytical philosophy?

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    It cuts across the analytic/continental divide. Analytic philosophy had its own version of post-modernism, post-positivism (Feyerabend, Rorty), who are not particularly well regarded by philosophers of science either. You can get an idea of why from this post about Rorty, and more comprehensively, Zammito's book referenced there. But what particularly discredited continental post-modernists is regularly venturing too far outside of their field of expertise and weaving texts by loose associations instead of arguments.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 2:26
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    And regarding the question itself: one of the main issue philosophers and scientists (no matter their tradition) have with post-modernist view is of the rejection of "Truth", as in an anti-realist view of truth and its convergence to reality. Commented May 8, 2020 at 11:08
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    Postmodernism is a sort of "intellectual fashion", while philosophy of science is (maybe with poor results) a discipline. Some phil of science, like e.g. Feyerabend has been considered "postmodernsit", due to the fact that postmodernism's targets are (inter alia): objective reality, truth, reason, science. It is debatable... but Feyerabend has a deep understanding (and knowledge) of science. Commented May 8, 2020 at 11:30
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    Re the question: "Is philosophy of the sciences purely analytic?", the answer is: No. First of all "analytic" is a slogan more or less as "postmodern". Second, see e.g. G.Canguilhem and G.Bachelard. Commented May 8, 2020 at 15:32
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    Out of curiosity, do postmodernists question the objective truth of historical claims--the reality of Julius Caesar, for example--in the same way they do scientific claims? If they have a tendency to uniquely cast truth-claims in the natural sciences as cultural constructs in a way they don't with truth-claims in the humanities, that might help explain the sense of mutual hostility.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 21:44

3 Answers 3


For many people, Kuhn's notion of the incommensurability of paradigms is a form of postmodernism. So then there is not a conflict, the Philosophy of Science has notable post-modern contributors, who are well respected (if embattled).

But post-modernism is not a single coherent theory of its own, it is a variety of results that leave a given impression: The collection of arguments against Logical Positivism in particular, but against the modern convergence toward a commonsense approach to factuality in general.

So you can't use it as a set of principles, you have to use the individual instances, and their collective implications. To meld those results and their impression into a theoretical structure results in a pseudoscience. They are mutually contradictory, too flexible, don't share a standard of comparison, etc. And they are like that on purpose. But at the same time, they attempt to say quite definite things (even though they know better). You can use them together to make a point, but once you do, you are not left with any way to question the result. And yet they often treat this as a predictive theory.

This overall approach is all too common. People like Feyerabend and Critical Theorists make valuable points, and those points need to be respected to temper epistemological excesses. But they reach well beyond the evidence in search of their findings for the lack of evidence. If you go down that path, you need to take the path with you, because while each argument may be useful, the overall result eats its own tail and weakens the arguments it is trying to integrate with.

But instead of carefully curating this collection of warnings, people generalize from the result. This amalgam becomes a theoretical synthesis that denies theoretical syntheses, but not itself. They derive principles, that they know cannot be used as classical principles. Because that is one of the principles they derive. But then they use them that way. Because human beings have standards of argument, which they cannot escape.


Read John Zammito’s 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), which assiduously tracks the movement in the 20th Century from traditional epistemology and philosophy of science to the sociology of knowledge and of science, borne primarily of radical, histrionic and hyperbolic misreadings of Quine's holism and underdeterminism, the notion of theory ladeness of facts/perceptions, and Kuhn's incommesurability (from his 1962 opus, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). This is a book that, given your interests, as expressed here, you NEED to peruse.

As a primer, have a look at these posts, your concerns are, to some extent, outlined and fleshed out: Does philosophy shed any light on how parties can fruitfully debate without an agreed source of truth?, Post-Positivism's Relationship to Post-Modernism, and Looking for a book to compliment Zammito and Mohanty in understanding the ethos of post positivistic realism


It absolutely does relate to Analytic-Continental feuding - which has far more to do with differences in style, than substance. Lumping in Postmodernism with Marxism, immediately indicates someone not to take seriously, so take care to separate these.

Kuhn should be considered a Postmodernist, and did contribute substantially to the philosophy of science, with his idea of paradigm conflicts rooted in truths held by specific science cultures and communities, and concern for sociology of scientific consensus. But, he went too far, he claimed scientific truths are fundamentally social truths, dependent on which community has power, without means to use cultural dynamics to get to things beyond that. That's because he did not believe truths were fundamentally reconcilable, see his Later Semantic Incommensurability Thesis.

Wider context discussed here: Does postmodernism in art criticism collapse into relativism? What's its merit? The term Postmodernism has generally been defined and used by critics, in a way that ignores the diversity of Continentalist thought. Foucault denied being a Postmodernist, and the term is so often used pejoratively by people who haven't read anything of it that it is more slogan than school.

Foucault, who Kuhn's approach has been compared to, did a similar thing with power. Lot's of interesting analysis finding power dynamics where they hadn't been considered before. But then going to far, and declaring interactions are and can only be about power, inescapably. It takes an interesting mode of analysis, and makes an absurd reductionism & universalising of it - ironically, a metanarrative exactly as postmodernism is typically described as ending, even if it does so by retreating from advocating for shared values into individualist and tribal power dynamics.

Popper wrote The Open Society And It's Enemies, with half of it dedicated to identifying Marx's thought as intrinsically headed towards autocracy, and developing a demarcation of science that excluded historical materialism and Freudianism, which specifically sought to appear to be 'sciency'. Popper was harshly critical of Kuhn's ideas though couldn't dismiss them, organising a special symposium to critique The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions.

Popper, and professional scientists, have to believe that the best science will result in consensus. Based on and justifying, shared values like falsifiability, peer review, and replication. Kuhn sought to challenge the idea consensus will inevitably lead to better truth, and he was right to do so.

But I'd look to Durkheim to correct Kuhn, the binding power of shared values held to be unquestionable must be considered - the controversy over Korean and Chinese human germline genetic experiments isn't about power, it's about what kind of people and community scientists want to be, and participate with. The cohesion of the scientific community depends on that, the internationalism of collaborations, conferences, paper review and publication. Similarly, values about doing reputable truthful science, go beyond power - they become a fitness landscape aimed at challenging cognitive and cultural bias, data manipulation like p-hacking, tobacco-science and greenwashing etc. That is, the core values of the community lead to active accrual of intelligence in enacting them. Kuhn's thought does not have space for that.

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