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Non-Epistemological Chronicles, 1: How to Diffuse Non-Philosophy Among Scientists?

Anne-Françoise Schmid, trans. Sylvia

            The difficulty is that the reading of texts of non-philosophy requires putting in work several scopes, undoing philosophy of its sufficiency, making a material of it, transforming this material such that it, indirectly, permits being put to use to describe science. There are several movements at the same time, which disconcerts the student of science. One must therefore find how to tackle this practice within epistemology that shows how it can modify and enrich the representations of the sciences. It is this guiding question that will indirectly orient the chronicles that are to follow.


            Hypothesis: Man is the one who thinks a variety of orders of knowledge (and non-knowledge).


            What becomes of epistemology if one admits this proposition? It requires that we do not reduce science to such and such of its realizations. There are “orders” as there are minimal figures, that one never observes but that are like “dimensions” or “orders of pertinence” to comprehend free combinations of these orders of knowledge and non-knowledge.

            A first approach is therefore to show that this new practice of epistemology accounts for manifestations of sciences that are much more varied, in a much freer fashion, without however renouncing the idea that there is something in science that is not reduced to neither social practice, nor technology, nor philosophy, etc. … How to conserve the idea of a “specificity” of orders of knowledge and still account for all the blends that one observes in the history of sciences and the empirical, between the philosophical, the scientific, the religious, the technological, the aesthetic and whose importance in every scientific “revolution” we now know.

            To guarantee forms of non-blends, we need some sort of rules of non-confusion or non-reduction of orders, or minimal dimensions, to permit reconstructing complex links between them. The order cannot be empirical but just minimal, without which implicit fusions between them would form without us being able to control them. We must invent the equivalent of minimal pieces outside of every historical complexification, so as to constitute and recognize the orders and combine them in as many ways as possible. It is a thought of orders that is combinatory under one of its aspects, but that is also presented under an axiomatic form.

            We can propose a certain number of rules of distinction.

Proposition 0

            One of them summarizes the others in a certain way: do not project the philosophical structure of contraries onto the “descriptions” of the sciences.

            For example, making a dialectic of the relationships between theory and fact is to project a philosophical structure which has important consequences for the fashion in which the sciences are considered. Some ingredients of the sciences appear as vanishing once the science is “established”, such as hypotheses (confirmed into “laws” or rejected), or even models, sometimes comprehended as making a part of a scaffolding. Or still, certain ingredient could appear as “intermediaries” between theory and facts, this is often the case with measures (that adapt or disjoin the relationships between theory and facts), or even, once again models, comprehended as conditions of application of theory, or yet as its concretization (“true interpretation”).

            The organization of notions of epistemology around the theory/fact couple has the consequence that many analyses of scientific situations are rendered narrow, the ingredients in play find neither their place nor their varieties. Neither does it permit seeing other dimensions or other orders of magnitude, for example those that we can elaborate around notions of the “virtual” or the generic. With modeling, the epistemological order of pertinence changes, it is no longer explained by the “theory/fact” relation, or rather, there is a variety of the epistemological order of pertinence. The “positive/speculative” opposition is no longer the only one to articulate the relationships between the given and the constructed, one must add the parameter/description opposition which is of the order of the “virtual” and is explained in the “virtual/real” relation. The “grain” of science is no longer only the fact. It is the implicit attachment to the first that, in France, has organized the mistrust with regard to modeling and interdisciplinarity.


Rule 1

            Do not formulate criteria of scientific practice anymore. Criteria seek to delimit the sciences by excluding the practices that cannot be reduced to it. They are constructed from a particular historical image of science. This is one of the difficult stakes, while the “criteria” of scientificity, invented in the 20th century, do not seem to function as criteria anymore. The criteria and their disappearance form the genealogy of the contemporary relativism of the sciences.

Example: the status of models in epistemology, taking account of criteria elaborated around the theory/fact couple. Some think that there are domains where models should not prevail (See the book ed. Pascal Nouvel, Enquête sur le concept de modèle, Paris: PUF, 2002, prefaced by D. Lecourt, or even the Thomassone/Guermond debate on modeling in geography in: Natures, Sciences, Sociétés 15 (2007; 112-113, 324-325). This old debate has not ended. Why? Because we have a point of view on the sciences that depends on one of its historical states (end of the 19th century-beginning of the 20th century).

Note: It is possible that in the countries where logic has been more important in philosophical practice, the types of exclusion are not the same as in France, where there is a whole history of the critique of models and interdisciplinarity. Nevertheless, it was difficult to give a relatively autonomous status to the model.


Rule 2

            Make a usage of the history of sciences in epistemology that is experimental and not dogmatic. There are passages between historian and systematic practice, but one must indeed separate them. Render the passages between history of sciences and epistemology explicit, by multiplying the occurrences, but do not accept one of the practices as fundamental for the other. There are no reasons for our epistemological point of view to directly follow from a historical state of science considered as paradigmatic.


Rule 3

            Likewise, one must distinguish philosophy of sciences and epistemology, not in a dogmatic fashion, but in a manner that permits tackling scientific questions by articulating “fundamental” concepts with instruments or items that are much more precise and without entering into a dialectic of the local and the global.


Rule 4

            Admit that epistemology, the philosophy of sciences, and history do not bear directly on the sciences. One must make use of several layers or shells [couches] of language that work on representations of sciences, and not on what we could call the “sciences themselves”. It does not entail making a theory of representation: this term is only an operator to signify that all these disciplines do not bear directly on science, not more than all the opinions, “founded” or not, that we can have on them.


Rule 5

            Treat disciplines as condensations of scientific modes of coherence and practice—therefore epistemologically determinant at a certain level—, all while knowing that the objects on which they work are not simply their empirical projection. The almost contemporary projections of disciplines and their differences have concealed the concept of the generic. Construct sets of planes that take account of the organization of disciplines and that which is generic.


Rule 6

            Treat every passage of the type universal/particular, universal/concrete, theory/application with a lot of prudence as only having a pertinence on historically particular cases. Knowing the set of Real numbers well is not enough to comprehend the set of Rational numbers well, although within the perspective of the construction of numbers the latter seems simpler (see the works of Viviane Durand-Guerrier). Knowing a mathematical theory does not make it possible to “apply” it in the empirical (see the works of Franck Varenne). All of these passages make an implicit fusion of different levels. A particular case is not necessarily the concretization of a cognition considered as more general.


Rule 7

            Take care not to implicitly admit a covering between a philosophical concept and a scientific concept, so as to be able to occasionally, but explicitly, construct them. In all of philosophy of sciences’ tradition, one admits that philosophy is more general than the sciences, that it can cover them, that it can bear on them in a natural fashion. Why, moreover do we not do the inverse? In any event, one must remain very circumspect in front of this type of blend, so as to be able to create them in a free and explicit manner.

            One of the present [actuels] coverings that has important consequences is the projection of the theme of “technology” onto everything that concerns the process of modeling and design. Such a covering does permit seeing their finite and determined character.


            These rules are partial, their order does not matter, save for perhaps proposition 0, which indicates epistemology’s ambiguous status, between philosophies and sciences. They impose a sort of “reflective judgement”, where, as a function of a problem and its identity, (historical, philosophical, ethical, etc.) “layers” or “shells” are articulated that are not “detachable” from one another, but that are no longer confounded. It is an exercise of unity of science and philosophy reposing on constantly recommenced distinctions, without the unity and the distinctions playing as contraries.

            It is in the non-confusion of these distinctions and within the multiform and varied passages that one can construct the clandestine practice of epistemology between the orders that reside.

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