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1.4.5 A Tree of Knowledge

We talked about the elements of technology and how it pervades many spheres of our lives. We have seen that technological progress is mostly driven by human desires, needs and fears – basically, human experiences, our interpretation of them (making sense of them), and the manifestation of our meaning construction in the activities that we choose to conduct. Let me try to illustrate the relations between these human experiences, our way of extracting meaning from them, and the role of technology in our life world, by the image of a tree of knowledge.


The roots constitute the sources of all our experiences. Everything we know about the world is constructed by our cognitive equipment: senses, central nervous system, brain. Parts of this system are memory, consciousness, emotions and other psychologically observable and explainable features. In simple terms: we observe, process, think, feel, recall and react. All experiences necessarily are made by us from the self-perspective. Nobody can make experiences for someone else. Same as a thought doesn’t exist beyond its being-thought, experience doesn’t exist beyond its being-experienced. The perception of a self (or an ego) inevitably goes along with the definition of everything else as the other. This illusion of separation creates the idea of world as something external. Within this world-space we experience desires and needs that feed our constant fear of non-existence and ceasing-from-existence. We experience many forms of suffering (in the literal form as pain, in the figurative form as non-satisfactoriness) and yearn for safety and security. This list of basic features is certainly incomplete, but I believe it is sufficiently precise to adumbrate the key point: all humans (as long as not physically or mentally disabled) share these features, and all humans build their decisions, viewpoints and their life on this foundation.

The trunk is the channel through which we process all these experiences in order to manifest them in our being-in-the-world (using Heidegger’s term). Experiencing is a process (for some scholars even an act) that only works in view of an experience background that is present in the experiencer, an active sense-making. This might be the biggest difference to Descartes’ tree of knowledge: It is illusionary to believe that the act of sense-making for all humans is always only scientific, exploiting knowledge of the real world (nature). Since Kant and latest since the convincing insights provided by constructivism, there are many more options. First, we all run on a kind of default setting. If not otherwise reflected or mindfully brought into our conscious awareness, the choices and decisions we make are controlled and determined by the cognitive and behavioural patterns acquired since we are born, under strong influence of our emotions, our education and other previous experiences that I like to summarise as the matrix. In this default setting we tend to be selfish, self-centred, vulnerable, manipulable and susceptible for external powers. Then, there is dogmatism and indoctrination: Someone tells us in one or the other form what certain experiences mean and what we have to conclude from them. In the light form, this includes the parental and institutional education at home and at schools. In the more drastic form we can find that in most religious instances (church), in some political systems, and in parts even in science; in short: in all systems that have anything to do with power of some over others (in the widest possible meaning). There are also more conscious and skeptical ways of sense-making: we can deal with observations and experiences empirically by setting them into perspective with other observations and experiences, we can contest them and refine our understanding of them. The most basic tool for this is logic. An important aspect of these strategies to construct meaning from experience is that they are more sustainable and stable the more mindful and free in the choice of options a person is. I like to understand the Buddhist teaching of enlightenment as the perfect way of meaning construction, one that works with a 100% mindful awareness of all the proceedings in the world. This is an ideal and impossible state, but understood as one to which we should try to get as close as possible.

Meaning construction results in decision-making and choices for particular actions. The branches in this image represent spheres of such manifestations, different modes of individual and collective practices and worldviews, and also the fields that serve as sources for insights for answering the questions that arise in our life, for explaining plausibly the new experiences that we make throughout our lives. In order to understand my choice of branches (here: religion, culture, politics, economy, science, technology) it is important to realise that this model applies for both individual humans and societies at large. Let me start with the societal level. In current societies, these spheres are the most present ones. Almost all societies developed or adopted institutions of organised religion or at least some kind of spirituality, organise themselves in some form of politics, established systems of production, trade and consumption (economy), started investigating nature and society (science) and invented more or less sophisticated tools that make human life easier (technology). Culture might be an outstanding point here, and some might disagree upon its presence in this set of social spheres. What I mean with it, here, are all the features and characteristics that serve as the identity-giving connecting fabric of a society: language, art, morals, codes of behaviour, Zeitgeist. Different societies express these branches in different fashions and to various extents, both regionally (an Asian society is different from a European one) and temporally (the Greek society of 500BC differs from the contemporary Greek society). From the historical perspective, some ancient branches disappeared while new ones flourished, others dried out or grew stronger. The societies of medieval Europe, for example, made sense of experiences under the influence of church’s dogmatism, fearing hell, praying for God’s mercy and benevolence. An experience (e.g. a disease) was interpreted in the framework of this sense-making (e.g. a punishment by God for improper conduct). Traditions dominated the daily life and rituals of people (“we do it because we always did it!”). Scientific inquiry was mostly unknown or even suppressed, technology was not very advanced and didn’t play a big role as possible source of answers for the urgent questions of daily life (arising from the experiences the people made).


Today, in our rather secular societies, we don’t consult religion in the same way (to answer most of the life questions), but rather for specific private spheres. Instead, we seek solutions in the fields of science and technology, because the provided answers proved to be more reliable and sustainable in the sense that applying strategies from those realms more reliably lead to success than prayers or employing cultural traditions and customs.


There is an ambivalent correlation between the society as a system and its individual members. Each individual contributes to the characteristics of a society, but it is also society that shapes individuals and sets the margin for their self-expression. A religious society will most likely produce religious members. The process of social change and progress, therefore, is usually very slow. However, what is valid for the society at large is also valid for the individual: Everybody develops all branches in one or the other way and to a certain extent. Remember: these reflections are about constructing meaning from experience.

Simple Example: Some experiences affect our understanding of features of our surrounding (our world construct): We long to understand nature and the world. Depending on the epistemic channel that a person prefers and applies, answers are found in the branch of religion or in science.

Complex Example: Experiences concerning the fulfilment of needs can either be manifested in economy (for example as materialism), in religiously or spiritually motivated modesty, or in scientific explanations of human psyche.

All parts – roots, trunk, branches – are dynamic and subject of change. Some roots grow deeper and stronger when a person puts a focus on certain types of experiences or when outer conditions (for example, the type of job, or the family situation) draw the person’s attention to particular aspects of life. The channels in the trunk are cultivated and expressed to different extents, too. Children mostly follow their default setting, but during youth and adolescence they discover new strategies for constructing meaning. Some become open-minded empiricists, others indoctrinated religious fanatics (just to be sure: there are also open-minded religious people and dogmatic fanatic empiricists). Once a channel is formed and solidified, it is very difficult to change the setting, yet not impossible. Moreover, it is perfectly possible that many branches co-exist peacefully. A scientist can be outspokenly religious by separating the types of knowledge strictly – empiric physical knowledge into the science field, normative spiritual knowledge into the religion field. It would take an enormous amount of active ignorance to claim that “there can only be scientific knowledge” (as done by atheists) or “there can only be religious belief” (as done by religious fanatics).

We can think of countless examples in what way this metaphor depicts the development and constitution of social spheres like politics and economy as the result of meaning-construction. This would exceed the scope of this class too much. Instead, I’d like to draw the attention towards the fourth element in this illustration: the fruits. When a branch flourishes, there are fruits growing that a person or a society has to harvest. A strong economy branch will support wealth and material well-being, but also greed and competition. A strong religion branch will increase the capacity of hope and identification with the community, but also fascism (separating the own beliefs from the others’ beliefs) and dogmatism (for example promoting creationism and denying biological evolution). Strong science and technology branches will bring about knowledge, possibilities and better life quality, but also increased risks, environmental pollution and social injustice (if not taken care of well). Some fruits are sweet, others are poisonous or stink. It is these fruits that make people conclude that some branches are more valuable and viable than others, that some branches are better kept small or even cut off while other branches deserve more care and nourishment. Atheists often deny the legitimacy of the religion branch. Anti-capitalists see a social threat in the economy branch. Political reformists and anarchists would like to reshape the politics branch according to their political ideals. Reportedly, there are even “science-deniers”. However, same as it is impossible to change the roots (except working on the own roots), it is usually not possible to cut off or change branches (except in revolutions). The more effective strategy is to focus on the trunk, the channels of meaning construction.

Many people feel powerless in regard of huge overarching “systems” like church, political leadership, capitalism, technological progress, cultural matrix. They might criticise that my focus on strategies of meaning construction is too individual and idealistically ignoring that institutionalised systems and their power outweigh the impact of individual person belief and knowledge systems. I agree that a heavy precondition for my reflections is a certain degree of freedom of choice. People living in tyrannies might not have a chance to change the fashion of the politics branch. Capitalism is so deeply entrenched in people’s life that it doesn’t really give them a chance to choose their lifestyle. People in the poorest country on earth face such urgent existential problems that questions of meaning-construction turn out unaffordable luxury for them. However, most of us do have a choice. Systems only have power over us when we give it to them, which is mostly by not taking full advantage of our capacity to choose how we construct meaning from experience. Mindless people are easier to control than people with a clear and well-reasoned, well-informed worldview. Naturally, there will always be those people with deeper insights and a wider variety of choices (those with a thicker trunk) and those with rather limited possibilities (with thinner trunks, easily bendable in the wind of opposition). Here, we need communication and discourse on all levels (family-internal, among friends, in social groups and public in general) in order to plant seeds in each other to refine and sophisticate our meaning-construction strategies. We need to make sure, of course, that it is the better argument (in terms of logic consistency and viability) that wins, not the most powerful position or the most popular. Then, sooner or later, some branches decay while others flourish or new ones sprout.

How does this image help us understand the impact of technology? We live in an age in which the technology branch is very strong. It means, whenever we are challenged to solve a problem or to reflect on a new experience, we seek for advise or solutions in the technology branch: There will be a technical, scientific, engineered solution! Sometimes we treat areas of daily life that have nothing to do with technology as such (e.g. partnerships, friendships, political leadership, global injustice, etc.) in ways that can be characterised as technical or engineering-like, at least knowledge-based and empirical. Think of, for example, the current trend to evaluate the partnership in terms of pleasure gain, and the trend to change partners easily if the pleasure is not as high as expected. Another example is the technocratic character of chinese (mainland) politics that understands its task as fine-tuning the machine society so that it runs smoothly. Our experiences make us do what we choose to do, so they are also the driver of our desire for technological solutions for daily life problems. Clarity about these mechanisms often help understanding the ethical issues arising from technological progress. What seems to be a blessing for one group of people (or one part of society) might be perceived or interpreted as a threat or risk by another. In this respect, technology-related insights and knowledge (as the result of meaning construction) are never neutral or value-free, but intrinsically ethical and normative.

2. Science

As we have seen, science is one important part of technological progress. It delivers crucial factual and technical knowledge (natural and engineering sciences), but also social and ethical knowledge related to technological development and impact (social sciences, humanities). Obviously, science is chosen as a source of meaningful knowledge for certain reasons: The method of knowledge generation is more reliable than other forms of insight. Science, as widely held, provides us with knowledge about the world that can be taken as true. The goal of this chapter (this and the next class) is to understand what makes science such a powerful institution, but also to see where its limits and dangers are. These are questions for the philosophy of science and epistemology. But also the history of science might be insightful: How did the scientific method change over the centuries, and what were paradigms of science (to use Thomas Kuhn’s expression)? As an example, we might have a look at the development from early alchemy to the modern synthetic chemistry. Differences to other strategies of knowledge creation (religion, spirituality, also ideology and dogmatism) have to be pointed out.

We would have to talk about the impact of David Hume and Immanuel Kant on our scientific understanding of the world, about Francis Bacon, Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Williard van Orman Quine, in order to get an overview of the various approaches to science theory. Also the contributions of Galileo, Da Vinci, Einstein and Bohr to scientific methodology is somehow crucial. This is not only a challenge for me as a lecturer, but also for you as a student. Let me try a different approach of which I believe that it will be more helpful and meaningful for the goals and topics of this class. It will not be complete and historically precise, but sufficiently correct and pragmatically applicable for you.

2.1 Epistemology

By using our cognitive tools we perceive the world we are living in. The most naïve view is that of a real world that presents itself to us. Our task, then, is to watch it with a clear mind (and clarifying the mind is a practice of philosophy) so that we are able to see as many facets of it as possible in order to increase the chances of a successful and fulfilled life in this world. This was the idea of the Ancient Greek philosophers, starting from Heraklit and Parmenides up to Sokrates, Platon and Aristoteles. It was all about “the world”. Its features and properties (its “truth”) can be recognised by us so that we – by careful watching and philosophical reflection – get the most realistic image of it. Only then we can fulfil our most human task of overcoming our natural boundaries and get closer to the divine, closer to perfection. This is the basic idea: The specifically human element in us is the ability to go beyond ourselves, to exit the inevitable and be free. With an accurate picture of the real world that surrounds us in mind, this movement towards the divine is facilitated significantly!


There are two dangers in this idea, and both are deeply entrenched in the further course of European-Western philosophy. The first is the dualistic division into “outside” and “inside”, into “outer world” and “inner me”, finding its climax in the reflections of René Descartes (17th century). The second is the realist scientific worldview with its idea of “discovering” knowledge about real features of the world. Even though this realism has been replaced by constructivism in recent decades, many scientists, engineers, researchers, but also most scientific laymen are still convinced that the knowledge we can acquire by scientific investigation describes a somehow manifested actuality.

Immanuel Kant is the most prominent philosopher who modified this image of world perception. His basic idea was that we can only get aware of those features of the world that we have a pre-formed image of, that means that somehow match with our previously made experiences. He distinguished “things-in-themselves” (the features of the real world) from the things as they appear in our mind.


As a consequence, we can never know for sure what the actual world is. It remains obscured. The world that is represented in our mind is fed by an image of the world, and at the same time it feeds this image (for example by making new experiences that requires a modification of the image). In this view, “world” is all about the subject (or: the observer). Some even went so far to say that “world” only exists in the mind.

The idealists’ view that world is only idea (in the mind) is a hidden dualism because it only emerges in view of its counterpart “materialism” that states that world is only matter. Moreover, it is still the somehow given (real) world with its “things-as-such” that impacts the human perception. This is indicated by the direction of the arrow: Signals stream in for us to process them. In order to increase the chance that our image of the world is identical to the actual world, we need to attempt to uncover the hidden features of the world. The scientific method, in this view, is then a discovery of the world and what is to be known about it.

This direction was reversed by phenomenology, most prominently pushed forward by Edmund Husserl and later Martin Heidegger. The subject can’t be taken as a passive observer and constructor of the world. The cognitive process of observation itself gets into the focus.


 An act of perception, in this view, is not a mere “streaming-in” of stimuli, but an active “looking-out” (figuratively! it covers all senses, not just the visual!) into the world. By nature, this is a highly selective process. Insights from biology, physics, psychology, anatomy, and other scientific disciplines that tell us about the human condition deliver a better understanding of how we construct “world” by making experiences. The crucial point is the human cognition, the “lens” that we are unable to take off. It confines the cut of the world that we are able to pay attention to, and it also colours and shapes the incoming signals.

One of the most impressive experiments that was conducted to show our selective perception was this: People were asked to watch the video of a volleyball match and count how often the ball was passed between players all dressed in white. A man in a black gorilla costume appeared in the center of the scene during the match, beating his chest and making silly movements. The big majority of watchers didn’t see him, even though he was clearly visible among the white dressed players. Now, we can say that it was “unfair”, because the people were asked to concentrate on the ball, they can’t be blamed. But isn’t “life” exactly like that? We are always so busy focusing on certain clear cut aspects of life, occupying our full attention, that occurrences beyond this don’t find a way through to our awareness.

Phenomenology stresses the importance of experience. Every experience (extended to every act of cognition) involves the entire set of experiences made in the past. An experience is the manifestation of all experiences. A simple example: When seeing the front of a house, we know that this is a three-dimensional building because we know the concept house from former experiences. In every perception of a part of the world, we are aware of the entire world, because only in this relation the experience makes sense. This sense-making is the basis of all experience. Not only do we align all experiences with our worldview (constructed from previous experiences), we also can only experience what fits into our margin of sensefulness. That’s why we don’t see the monkey during the volleyball match, because a monkey has no place in the world “volleyball”. The house front is automatically completed in our mind to an entire house. When walking around it we might find that it deviates from our imagination, for example the exact size, shape, etc., but these are just details. In the same way, we almost always succeed in identifying an item as a “table”, even when it is a very unusual modern art design, because its entire embedment into our world (including its functionality) is constantly present. Sometimes our imagination is fooled, misled, surprised or puzzled. When we walk around the house front and find that it is only the decoration of a movie set, for example. Then we either have to re-align the constructed reality (here: from the world “house as living space” to the world “movie making”), or we have to construct new meaning from the new experience.

How can we be sure that the way we construct meaning from experience is in any way supported by real features of the surrounding world, and by that somehow justified? How do I know that what I see is the same thing as that what you see? There could be a simple answer: by talking about it!


Both our world constructions don’t represent the actual world sufficiently, but if we integrate our two – almost necessarily deviating but also sufficiently overlapping – images into one, we might get closer to what may count as real. This discourse approach to world conceptualisation was promoted in the later 20th century by Jürgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel, Niklas Luhmann and others. Mankind is a species that constitutes its environment through communication and collaboration. World construction is, therefore, always a process from the “inter”-space: inter-personal, inter-relational, inter-cultural. My world becomes my world by setting it into relation to yours. My experience is only valid (or not) in view of your experiences (and all others). In case there are insurmountable differences, we need to engage in a conversation (or a discourse) in order to create new clarity.

However, communication is not a trivial thing. Its most important tool is language. This includes our spoken language using words, but also numerical systems (mathematics) and symbolism, non-verbal interaction, body language, etc. Language itself is conditioned and constituted by experience, which means that we only have linguistic expressions for what is already part of our experience (made by any of our ancestors). Translatability of thoughts and other cognitive impressions is a difficult endeavour, not only between the different languages of different countries or cultures, but even on the very basic level of interpersonal conversation. Therefore, philosophy spends a great big deal on clarifying and defining words and terms. When all that is done it is still not guaranteed that one really understands the other, because experience is not fully transferable. With sufficient exchange of information I might be able to anticipate your experience, but since my framework of experiences and their connection is different from yours, I will never be able to see the same thing in the same light. Actually, world can be defined as exactly this framework of connected experiences. Then, it makes sense to talk about worlds rather than the world, because what is world for you is more or less different from what is world for me. Identifying and getting aware of the overlapping parts of our world constructions is what gives us an image that is more likely to resemble the actual world. This view is called constructive realism, a more recent epistemological concept of scientific inquiry.

With these considerations in mind, let’s have a look at the tree of knowledge from section 1.4.5 one more time. How do scientists construct meaning from experiences? They usually employ rationality and reason, that’s for sure. They even challenge their experiences or induce new experiences, for example by exploring unknown features or by conducting experiments. From the considerations above, however, we need to be aware of the fact that they don’t look at isolated experiences. They can’t! They all have a pre-shaped margin of experiences within which new experiences (including the induced ones) have to make sense. This has been pointed out convincingly by WVO Quine: A belief (and he includes scientific statements as “beliefs” with a high probability of being true or certain) is always embedded in a network of other believes. A scientific statement only makes sense in view of all other scientific statements. This bears a danger: every scientist became a scientist by more or less formal education. They all start their professional career with a backpack full of scientific knowledge as the “state of the art” of their field (physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology, engineering, etc.). This knowledge serves as an orientation for them, unless they have good reasons (and the mind) to question this knowledge or parts of it. Richard Feynman gave an illustrative account of this fact by the example of the charge of an electron: After Millikan published his influential findings, over 100 years the value increased significantly, but very slowly, because scientists who did research on this matter and published it didn’t dare to deviate too much from Millikan’s value since that was the scientific fact accepted by the community. We can also see several eras in the history of science that are characterised by worldviews, like mechanistic concepts of matter, field theories, energistic models (like that of Wilhelm Ostwald), that influence the way we understand and interpret experimental data, and even our decisions on what counts as a suitable or insightful experiment. Now we understand what Kuhn means with scientific revolutions: For some time, scientific findings are interpreted following a certain way of meaning construction that is pre-shaped by the particular fashion of the science branch, until the evidences are powerful enough to “re-grow” the branch in light of the new predominant understanding.

As this image wants to illustrate, a scientific approach in constructing meaning from experience is not only affecting the science branch, but all the branches. Scientific knowledge is one (but not the only) important element in technological progress, it impacts production and consumption of goods and services, it influences political practices (for example it favours the development of deliberative democracy rather than a representative democracy); it pushes religion and its authorities into the private sphere (since religious teachings have no world-explanation authority), and it often (but not always) facilitates a cultural skepticism concerning questions of tradition and customs. In the positive sense, it leads to higher rationality and reason, in an exaggerated sense it leads to technocracy and scientism. It is this very danger that makes it important to see the limits of science as a strategy for meaning construction: The strong point of scientific inquiry – if employed well – is a high reliability and viability in questions about natural features of our world. But it can’t tell us how to live our lives or what to value. Yet, it is firmly embedded in this two-way matrix of experiences as the root of our inquiries and decisions, and the social spheres that are manifested by our convictions and practices. Throughout this course we will find countless examples where the noble goal of scientific reason is corrupted by non-scientific interests and by misleading methodologies and reasoning strategies. That’s how all science is intrinsically normative: The very act of scientific inquiry is a normative choice.

To summarise this: The goal of science is to create knowledge about the world and its elements. The method to acquire such knowledge is investigation and empirical reasoning by applying strategies of logic consistency. Systematic doubt is applied in order to refine and secure this knowledge. This is fundamentally different from religious or spiritual inquiry. The scientific method is a possible channel of world explanation and sense-making in the trunk of the tree, processing experiences and leading to the flourishing of certain branches. It is even an important element of the scientific method to induce certain experiences – to make the invisible visible, or to draw something hidden into our awareness. These experiences are then processed with logic, rationality and empirical reason. With this kind of knowledge we “feed” the spheres of our daily life (for example, the organisation of our society, the way we do politics, the economic system, the design and dissipation of technology, our understanding of the physical world and ourselves, etc.). We are not satisfied anymore with the dogmatic teachings of a religious elite (like the church), but want to be convinced by evidences that can withstand critical scrutiny. In this way, science shapes and influences our whole life and the way we choose to live it, but it doesn’t decide it for us.

The epistemological changes sketched above affected the (self-)understanding of science massively! Let’s see what changed in particular:

  • Correspondence theory of truth → Coherence theory of truth (with viability (可行性) and pragmatism (實用主義)) – The most striking paradigm shift is that away from truth-seeking (with truth understood as representing reality) towards a much more pragmatic endeavour of creating knowledge (with truth understood as logically consistent with (all) experiences and predictions) that is viable for something (applicable, exploitable, reliably replicable, meaningful).
  • Realism (實在論) → Constructivism (建構主義) – Even though scientific realism is still widespread among (natural) scientists, it has been replaced by a constructivist worldview in the philosophical discourse and also in parts in public understanding and in society’s institutions (esp. politics).
  • Observation → Manipulation (操縱) – Mere observation of the world is insufficient. In order to gain knowledge about the world and its components, we need to engage in de- and re-construction activities, which mostly means directed and strategic manipulation of the given by proper experimentation.
  • Empiric rationality → + Discoursive rationality – Of course, scientific reasoning still requires a strong sense for empiric rationality! However, we know now that this is only one part of it. We also have to engage in discourses with a communicative rationality if we want to acquire a better image of the world.
  • Causal Determinism → Conditionality (受限制性) – The ancient physicalism that led to the idea of strict causal determinism is substituted by more sophisticated concepts of conditionality according to which cause-effect-relations can be complex and highly intertwined.
  • Reductionism (化約主義) → Holism (System thinking) – The idea that we can understand a thing by understanding its components is not tenable in system thinking. Only in view of the whole are we able to gain full insight into the mechanisms of the world.
  • Separation (Dualism) → Integration (Monism) – The interconnectedness that is suggested by complex conditionality and expressed in holistic system thinking almost necessarily implies that the separation of entities (inside-outside, me-world, mind-matter) is not tenable. Integrative approaches in science are recently much more convincing and, therefore, find more and more followers among scientists.
  • Clarity (parsimony, 簡約) → Complexity (復雜性) (e.g. Chaos theory) – For many centuries, it was claimed that good theories are those that are clear and simple. The “law of parsimony” states that if two theories have similar explanatory power, but one is simpler (i.e. requires fewer preconditions), it is to be preferred over the other one. Today, we know that simplicity has its limit, especially when the subject it deals with is highly complex. Recent scientific models, for example chaos theory, attempts to respond to this complexity by allowing theories to follow complex trajectories.
  • Dogmatic Naturalism → Humble Naturalism – Scientists are devoted to naturalism, and it is good like that! However, it doesn’t mean that all non-natural issues like values and worldviews, or spiritual convictions, are nonsensical, stupid or irrelevant. Scientific naturalism is not the only legitimate form of valid meaning construction. Claiming otherwise is – on the grounds of current state-of-the-art of human knowledge – dogmatic. Credible science is better off with humbleness and focus on its strengths, granting other knowledge realms their strengths and justification.
  • Neutrality thesis (中立性論旨) → Ethical dimension of science – The old claim that scientific activity is by definition value-free is not tenable under these circumstances. Understood as an endeavour of (social) construction, it can never be free from certain preconditions and normative frameworks that are dominating in a societal or cultural margin. Therefore, there is an undeniable ethical dimension in science. Misunderstandings on this aspect sometimes arises from scientists claiming neutrality but actually insisting on objectivity!
  • Science as individual endeavour → Science as social activity/sphere – The image of the scientific hero that performs experiments in his home laboratory until a milestone in scientific discovery is reached almost disappeared. Today, science is institutionalised in academic and industrial settings and involves a large range of enactors ranging from lab technicians, graduate and post-graduate students to senior researchers, industrial collaborators and public investors. In this professional environment, the scientist has a social role that goes along with rights, duties and ethical obligations. These will be subject of the next lessons.

2.1.1 Practice questions

  • Which strategy is more efficient in maintaining good health?:
    • Praying or other rituals that please the gods,
    • Exploiting 4000 years of experience with the healing effects of herbs and other natural products,
    • Taking synthetic drugs based on medical knowledge about disease mechanisms on the molecular level.
  • Why do some people still prefer burning „ghost money“?
  • Why do governments spend a lot of their budget for academic science and research?
  • Why is the development in the USA (post-factualism, post-truth, „alternative facts“, feelings and opinions as legitimate arguments in factual discourse) so dangerous?



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