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Social Epistemology. Basic and Applied Problems


What is a peculiarity of social epistemology as compared with the classi­cal theory of knowledge? Firstly, this is an ontological (relativizing the entire ontological and epistemological difference) question about socio-cultural situation of production, operation and application of knowledge. Secondly, a special accent is given to an epistemological question about the methods of analysis of the cognitive processes and the categorical apparatus, which take into account the realities of culture and society. Thirdly, an applied intention of using the socio-humanita-rian knowledge to develop ways of social decisions is actualized. To­gether, this is a subject of social epistemology - philosophical and inter­disciplinary study of cognition in the socio-cultural context. The au­thor's approach combines Russian tradition of cultural-historical epistemology with some ideas L. Wittgenstein, A. Schutz, K. Hiibner, D. Bloor, S. Fuller. Four sections of the book deal, respectively, with the categorical shifts symbolizing the departure from the classical episte­mology; relationship of social and historical epistemology; applied pos­sibilities of the concept; and the discussions reflecting its contemporary intellectual context.



Part I. Conceptual Shifts

Chapter 1. Criteria of Knowledge: Epistemic or Social?

The question of knowledge criteria touches the very hard core of episte­mology. How to respond to it — from within a conceptual system or re­lating it to the wider environment? My answer: what remains inexpres­sible in language, non-externalized in activity and communication does not mean knowledge even if being fixed by an electronic scanner. Philo­sophers reflecting upon the nature of knowledge should not pretend to be a «neuroscientist», inspired by the prospects of NBI К technologies. So-

llya Kasavin. Social Epistemology. Basic and Applied Problems

cial Epistemology refers to the wider perspective of studies of cognition on the edge of philosophy and social/humanities studies.

Chapter 2. Truth as a Problem of Social Epistemology

The results of social-epistemological consideration of truth concept can be summarized as follows:

Truth is a characteristic feature of a descriptive and not of normative or value statement.

Truth is a form not of an isolated judgment bur rather of its sociocultural contextuali/ation.

Truth is in no way a kind of justification in terms of a fixed context but rather an appeal for a communicative discourse which problematizes the given and always incomplete understanding of knowledge.

Truth has nothing in common with a demarcation of knowledge and de­lusion, adequate and inadequate knowledge but rather an outcome of a synthetic reflexion, a kind of a cognitive vista.

Chapter 3. What is it to be a London flower girl? On Prometheus, Pygmalion and other "consciousness experts "

Many philosophers and psychologists today refuse to limit themselves with a purely ontological concept of consciousness and supplement it with epistemological one. We learn consciousness, seemingly, in the most immediate and credible manner, through self-perception, but such knowledge lacks intersubjectivity. And at the same time, we come in touch with consciousness indirectly and intersubjectively, observing be­havior of other people, but this knowledge can hardly avoid being ap­proximate and probable. There are also other issues related to the role of consciousness in the process of cognition. Can I reduce cognition to adaptation in natural surroundings, as believed by evolutionary episte-mologists? Are factors of self-awareness and reflection essential for knowledge? Finally, whether the consideration of consciousness sepa­rated from the process of learning throughout justified, as it is often the case in the discussions on the «mind-body» problem? And yet is there anything in the mind that is not knowledge? Can consciousness be re­duced to the corporal processes? Do qualia represent knowledge or merely an epiphenomenon of brain activity? An answer to thess and other questions is given by the cultural/historical epistemology which

llya Kasavin. Social Epistemology. Basic and applied problems

leads the mind beyond the limits of individual brain and at the same time bridges the gap between the mind and consciousness.

Chapter 4. Epistemology vs Philosophy of Language: a Way to Reciprocity

An attention to the experience of the humanities is characteristic, among other aspects, for the formation of nonclassical epistemology in contrast to epistemological classics, which development was based upon the comprehension of natural sciences. The last century the special atten­tion of philosophers is focused on the theme "knowledge and language", which threatens even to absorb by itself entire epistemological discourse. The analytical philosophy and poststructuralism build the polar posi­tions, problematizing the basic concepts of the philosophy of language. The transformation of the object field and methodological set of instru­ments of the classical theory of knowledge towards nonclassical ap­proaches in epistemology comes out as the necessary background of these processes.

Chapter 5. The Varieties of Experience and Experience of Variety

Experience balances between the poles of epistemology and ontology, between the scope of existence and scope of knowledge. The analysis of experience is based upon a number of intuitions which deserve a critical analysis. Thus, experience confronts thinking, just as direct knowledge confronts the discursive one; as the probable — the reliable, the real — the formal; the local - the universal; the diverse - the single; habitus - re­flection; tradition - rationality. Experience is given in no other way than through this diversity, and the claim «to express it in notions» remains elusive, otherwise experience would have lost its own status. Experience as a form of knowledge reveals relativism; experience as a form of life is the daily routine. Pure experience is non-existent, and purely social ex­perience lacks individuality. Local experience serves to solve particular tasks. The experience as such is a philosophical problem which has no fi­nal solution, though the concept of experience provides overall basis for philosophical contemplations.

Chapter 6. Communication and Creativity

Focusing on the nature of creative cognition, modern epistemology tends to rethink the oppositions of discovery and justification, artistic subjectivity and objectivity in science, self-expression and cognition, in­dividualism and collectivism, construction and representation. Creati-

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vity is positioned thereby in the space between the unique creative perso­nality and social communicative mechanisms (social recognition), ba­lances between «creating of what never existed» and «knowing of what and how is available». The result of creativity can be found in communi­cative act (even in a hidden or minimized form) and genuine communi­cation is impossible without creation of meanings. In addition, attention to communication context enables one to complete a descriptive inter­disciplinary study of creativity with its existential aspect as dramatic unity of the stable and the dynamic, discipline and freedom. Thinking over the mystery of creativity and revealing its conceptual boundaries the epistemologist experiences a situation of communicative gap: she feels charmed with it and immediately drops herself in mid-sentence.

Chapter 7. Constructivism: the Declared Programs and the Unsolved Prob­lems

The term "constructivism" is situated in the same line with such fa­shionable, different and ambiguous slogans like post-modernism, the cognitive sciences, synergetics, discourse analysis. It serves as a hope for new paradigm in science and a kind of technocratic project in hu­manities. This interdisciplinary movement is one of the newest uni­versal approaches to world, knowledge and human being. The idea of constructive character of knowledge represents a necessary element of non-classical epistemology. And still constructivism and relativism are often misinterpreted from the point of view of native realism and scientific naturalism as particular shortcomings of the social episte­mology.

Chapter 8. Space: an Existential Foundation of Knowledge

The study of cognition today takes place not only within the traditional epistemology but also in a broad scope of social sciences and humani­ties - psychology, sociology, ethnography, and logic - to which a predi­cate "cognitive", or "epistemic" has been attributed. Occasionally these disciplines open new continents of knowledge for the philosophical epis­temology. This is exactly the case of the concept "space". It had been in­cluded into epistemological discourse at least since I. Kant, and their current urgency was always growing, especially when it dealt with the search for a "natural" foundation of scientific and other forms of know­ledge.

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Chapter 9. Everydayness in a Technological Society

The concept denoted as everydayness, common sense, Alltaglichkeit at­tracts attention in different philosophical schools and plays crucial role in the analysis of human consciousness, activity and communication. The understanding of its functional character, essential fragmentarity, historical and social relativity goes far beyond its usual image as simple social matrix and cognitive adaptation.

Part II. The History of Cognition: Principles and Cases

Chapter JO. Epistemology and an Idea of History

Types of historicity and epistemologically relevant dealing with history have become important topics outside which the entire range of prob­lems in epistemology and philosophy of science cannot be discussed. What is history, being involved in the epistemological revolution? How an epistemologist works with the story? Whether there is a correlation, is it possible to harmonize the history, cultural history and civil history? Is it possible to identify the influence of the historical process upon the pro­cess of cognition? Is there any influence of cognition on history?

A philosopher never deals with raw, empirical history, and not even a theoretical history, but rather with a historical situation, which is a uni­versal representative of certain diversity. Here the idea of historicism as directed changeability is linked with notions of cultural relativity and the representative theory of abstraction. This combination is expressed in the historical a priori, a key concept of the historical epistemology.

Chapter 11. Historical Types of Knowledge. Myth, Magic, Religion

The importance of intellectual factors of social development, interac­tion of science and society serve as application field for the concepts of knowledge and mind elaborated in philosophy and humanities. In mo­dern literature knowledge in often characterized by typological defini­tion. Only through description of major historical types of knowledge and consciousness - everydayness, magic, myth, and religion — one can come to a general understanding of nature of the cognitive process, its results and methods of social application. The types of knowledge are considered in the context of specific practices and forms of social com­munication, into which they are historically included. This is the main

llya Kasavin. Social Epistemology. Basic and Applied Problems

principle of the socio-cultural analysis of various forms of knowledge, including modern science.

Chapter 12. Humble Reason and Rebellious Faith. The Case of Job

How are reason and faith connected in science, religion and in the his­tory of cognition in general? There is a stable tradition to connect faith with ancient, adaptive and non-reflexive types of consciousness, while reason is associated with everything different — modernity, critical doubt, elaboration of new meanings. This position ignores that reason and faith underwent essential evolution in the cultural history, acquiring specific content on its every step. We shall concentrate on one of such cases based on Bible story of Job. Here reason and faith seemingly change their places: faith is paradoxical and problematic though reason is collaborative and ready for a compromise. Job's faith follows from the break-up of the contracts that set both the rules for communication bet­ween tribes and the natural laws of events. Abraham's faith, which is grounded in sacrifice, cedes place to Job's faith, which comes accompa­nied by three "discoveries." The first is that the world loses its unsha-keable order and allows for miracles according to God's will. The second is that Man loses the ability to understand and respond to God and to be in a dialogue with him. But, thirdly, as Carl Jung pointed out ("Antwort zu Hiob"), humiliated and suffering Man discovers in himself the ability for sophisticated reflection, which God does not have. He overcomes his suffering and becomes superior even to God. The faith in God as the source of an unchangeable natural and social order gives way to the faith in God's power and Man's freedom from the social contract. Thereby the way for free cognitive enterprise has been released.

Chapter 13. David Hume and his Cognitive Paradoxes

The 300th anniversary of David Hume is a good reason to rehabilitate his philosophy in Russia where its reception was misguided through the dog­matic reading of Lenin's "Materialism and Empiriocriticism" - today it prevents the proper understanding of analytical philosophy. The ar­ticle deals with six major epistemological problems especially problematized in Hume's works: nature of knowledge, causality, induc­tion, cognitive habit, naturalistic concept of mind, and skepticism, which are reconstructed in a form of paradoxes (though not in a pure lo­gical sense of the word). The peculiarity of Hume's reception is shown to be essential for self-orientation of philosophy in Russia.

llya Kasavin. Social Epistemology. Basic and applied problems

Chapter 14. Language and Mind as Elements of Socio-code. The Roots of Contemporary Discourse Analysis

Among many modern methods of analyzing individual and collective consciousness, discourse analysis gains more and more popularity. Its theorists often extend their approach to universal methodology of socio-humanitarian sciences. The notion of discourse thereby begins to fulfill the functions which are very similar to those of "method" in the contemporary philosophy of social sciences and humanities. The histo­rical roots of this situation can be traced in the early 20 century, in the quest for justification of methodological specifics of human sciences dif­ferent from the rational standards of natural and exact sciences. This commitment was submitted to a greater or lesser degree by philosopher Gustav Shpet, psychologist Leo Vygotsky, philologist Mikhail Bakhtin and sociologist of science Mikhail Petrov. This Russian tradition in phi­losophy and humanities which anticipated some contemporary trends we shall dub «communicative-semiotic approach».

РапШ. Applied Studies

Chapter 15. Social Institutions and Rational Communication

Organizations and social institutions as the basic unit of modern society transform uncertainty, risk and conflict into collective rational activities. It is namely at the level of the social institution that rationality manifests itself mostly as a compromise of expansion and measure, as a vision of the real complexity of social processes in terms of interrelation of closed and open rationality.

Chapter 16. Interdisciplinary Research: Concept and Typology

A study of interdisciplinary interactions represents in fact an analysis of nonstandard cognitive situations in the communicative context of pro­duction and implementation of knowledge. This corresponds to a set of concepts and problems which become especially urgent in epistemology and philosophy of science of last three decades: context of discovery, incommensurability of theories, complementarity, multitheoretical de­scription, conflict of interpretations, impossibility of radical translation, types of rationality, dialogue, discourse, constructivism. All these prob­lems are far from being solved, and they only outline the conceptual space which is connected with the prospects of epistemological and sci­entific/methodological reflexion as well. They appeal to express the cog-

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nitive peculiarity of interdisciplinary research as non-classical type of ra­tionality which becomes more and more typical for contemporary epoch though inherits the century-old traditions of knowledge.

Chapter 17. Social-technological Construction of Knowledge and Interdis­ciplinary Studies

One of the main features of modern science and frontier intellectual ac­tivity in general is expressed in the concept of interdisciplinarity. Unlike discipline, which symbolizes a horizontal cut of science as a developing social institution, the cross-disciplinary interaction is an emergent and diachronic moment that characterizes the essential dynamics and leads to new forms of science organization. In this sense, interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and polidisciplinarity represent social mechanisms of science construction, which not only provides an understanding of social technologies, but also are their representative and heuristic examples.

Chapter 18. Theory of Social Technologies: Sphere and Limits

The concept of «social technology» (ST), as used in science no more fre­quently than in journalism, has not yet reached any theoretical maturity. This is due to a general state of social and human sciences, which have not yet given rise to social engineering science (the history of natural sciences run differently), and thanks to a number of socio-political cir­cumstances. Social technology is a problem which requires empirical in­terdisciplinary synthesis, on the one hand, and new theoretical concep­tualizations, on the other. The article proposes a working definition, a number of theoretical statements and typologies as well as examples of the development and use of social technologies, altogether providing a step in the construction of the synthetic theory.

Chapter 19. The Agents of the Innovation Process: a Communication Gap in the Knowledge Society

An innovation activity gives rise to a complex structure of communica­tion built according to family relations (L. Wittgenstein). There a ma­king of various alliances takes place, the connections between scientists, engineers, politicians and businessmen acquire different constellations. Some of them a due to an inner logic of implementation of innovative idea and are characterized by the general world standards of innovative activity. The others are indebted to a national Russian situation, which is currently far from being welcoming. It is particularly characterized by a

llya Kasavin, Social Epistemology. Basic and applied problems

communicative gap, the absence of common world picture and common language between the main participants. A society, which is governed only by money and power, makes impossible even effective economics. A level of civilization can be hardly higher than a level of culture.

Chapter 20. Taboo, Morals and Epistemology of Prohibition

What is the epistemological lesson of moral studies? How can ethics profits from using social-epistemological approach? Moral discourse is a result of a long-term transformation of the normative discourse in gene­ral, during which a person being subjugated by temptations, learns to say "No". Moral agent is an individual, whose consciousness contains in herself all the hardships of critical-reflexive revision of empirical history of morals. His advantage over distant ancestors consists in an ability to see the moral vanity of the historic diversity and courage to live without resigning yourself to your own peccability.

Chapter 21. Philosophy and Literature

Literature is a creation of archetypes - dreams, legends, and miracles. Philosophy is commonly defined as a special type of questioning. It con­sists in the conceptualization of human existence as transcending through thought, word and deed. If literature creates archetypes and tries the strength of the boundaries of being, then philosophy problematizes the archetype itself. It is exactly here that their unity still takes place.

Chapter 22. Knecht and Designori. Socio-cultural Roles of the Public Intellectual

Sociology of intellectual life analyzes the nature of the knowing agent from the point of view of his/her relation to society. And an old dilemma of an intellectual appears again: to serve the culture or to use it in the so­cial affairs. In order to study the problem in details one needs an elabo­rated typology of intellectuals. In particular a public intellectual attracts attention nowadays as soon as the intellectual labor becomes a routine mass activity and the chances of an idea to win in the competition de­pend mostly on the financial resources. As Steve Fuller puts it, "There is no idea innocent in the fate of the others". I argue that creativity and freedom can be saved due to an inevitable ambivalence of the intellec­tual, to the fluctuating plurality of his/her positions between knowledge and power.

llya Kasavin. Social Epistemology. Basic and Applied Problems

Part IV. Polemical essays

Chapter 23. Always the Same and the Different. On Alexander Nikiforov

The main deficiency of the modern concepts of knowledge consists in that they do not go beyond the confrontation of classical and non-classical philosophical and naturalistic research programs. However, modern epis-temology must build on new grounds, understanding it as opposed to clas­sical and non-classical approaches. This will be apostnonclassicaltheoryof knowledge, keeping the leading role of philosophy, on the one hand, and recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, on the other. While various research tasks, it will continuously move from descriptivism and empiricism to normativism and transcendentalism and back. No special science — logic, psychology or sociology, not a narrowly understood epistemological approach (evolutionary, cognitive or cul­tural) but only the integral philosophy of knowledge, philosophy and as such is able to give an adequate and rich idea of the knowledge. The latter in this case is filled with concrete content and represents the result of the analysis of real cognitive process; and yet it has a universal and abstract character to serve the cognizing person with norms and ideals.

Chapter 24. Are We the Same Issue Discussing About? On Elena Mamchur

Is social epistemology a special type of academic discipline like socio­logy of science or is it a philosophical analysis of knowledge? The answer to this question presupposes the exact definition of places of other disci­plines studying cognitive process: different variants of epistemology (transcendental, constructivist, evolutionary, computer, etc.), philoso­phy and history of science, cognitive sciences. Today it is difficult to trace the disciplinary boundaries due to the increasingly growing inter­disciplinary approach. Does philosophical epistemology give space to the naturalistic study of cognition? What is the essence of philosophical approach to knowledge? These were the main issues of our discussion with E.A. Mamchur.

Chapter 25. A Person or Her Body? On the Nature of the Agent of Consciousness

The free choice of cultural heritage and personal creativity is fundamen­tally different from genetic inheritance and mutation, where the human choice plays no role. We all living on the Earth represent natural beings, but only some of us are at the same time are cultivated. Culture is not just

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based nature, but in a certain sense is its denial like freedom denies ne­cessity. Culture is not only dependent on stereotypes, it is also a kind of self-projecting and auto-constructing, that is self-development. Evolu­tion without culture is a development that has no relationship to the man as bearer of consciousness. Not the body, but the single whole of the hu­man being as a social and cultural phenomenon is one who creates his consciousness and responsible for this. Не/she is a subject that is not ori­ented and not adapting to the environment, but already carries it in itself and even goes beyond it.

Chapter 26. Knowledge and Sociality, On Mikhail Rozov's concept

The concept of social estafettes (relay races), or wave, by M. Rozov is a version of the activity approach that captures some essential aspects of the sociality of knowledge. However, like the idea of the context of justifica­tion, it leaves aside the creative dimension of knowing, and a person's ability to choose the social parameters of their activities. How to combine cultural inheritance with creative freedom? This is a prerequisite for cul­tural dynamics, which cannot be totally covered by the impersonal and "indifferent to material" social estafettes. Fortunately, an attentive read­ing uncovers one another — a personalist — dimension of Rozov's thought.

Chapter 27. Homo Exegeticus: a Synthesis of the Cognitive Practices. On Ludmila Mikeshina

Contemporary philosophy of knowledge needs to enrich the conceptual apparatus in connection with the extension of rationality concept and to complement the transcendental subject with the empirical cognitive agent. In this regard, Mikeshina seeks the real substantive fields and ob­ject of philosophical study of cognition, its ontology, on the one hand, and the conceptual apparatus, methods and principles of synthesis of various cognitive practices and types of experience, on the other. The comprehension of perceptual experience, tacit knowledge, overcoming of "the pure mind" abstraction requires the theoretical and epistemological rehabilitation of «life», traditionally referred to existen­tial philosophy as «non-epistemological» concept.

Chapter 28. Consciousness on the Edge of Measurability. On Victor Petrenko

Psychosemantics, uniting different methods of investigation, appears in Petrenko's concept both as a reflection of and on modern psychology,

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where cognitivism and psychoanalysis, cultural/historical approach and artificial intellect studies, psychophysics and discourse analysis coexist in touching the mysteries of consciousness. The main idea can hardly be missed: consciousness is multidimensional and inexhaustible; it is like a universe, "the universe of imagination" (D. Hume); empathy and exact methods, logic and intuition, science and art are interpenetrated in its understanding.

Chapter 29. Where Ontology Ends and It Is High Time to Appeal to Reason. On Linn Backer

Lynn Radder Baker concept is notable for many reasons. Firstly, it con­cerns a fundamental philosophical issue — the nature of reality. Sec­ondly, it demonstrates clearly the method of analytic philosophy. Thirdly, it contains a considerable proportion of the seriousness where one might as well laugh. For philosophers-naturalists «basic ontology» is a «list of everything that makes for a complete description of reality» (definition provided by Baker). In contrast to this, "ontology" according to Social Epistemology is a product of the human mind in terms of its socio-cultural setting, not just «being as such». One cannot describe any existing objects avoiding classifications, typologies, categorizations in respect to their cognoscibility and involvement in the human world. Philosophical ontology is the world of man, of acting, communicating and perceiving agent. The place of reason, which finds no properplace in rea­listic ontologies, is provided by Social Epistemology.

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