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Part I A Theoretical Framewor

The New Understanding of Scientific Knowledge

Paolo Garbolino


The so called standard view of scientific theories maintained that the theoretical side of science could, and should, be kept separated from its observational and experimental components and from the process of collection and organization of these components. This view went together with the linear model of the politics of science and technology. The standard view has gradually been superseded starting from the 1960s by a more sophisticated understanding of scientific practice in which theories and observations are intertwined and empirical evidence is the product of a complex practical activity. Together with the standard view, the linear model of the relationship between science and technology has faded away leaving room for more sophisticated theories like the theory of the knowledge creation company. This theory has a common background and shows some similarities with the new ideas about scientific practice, as the concept of trading zone.

1 Science and Technology: The Standard View

In the mid-twentieth century, the philosophy of science was dominated by a point of view strictly connected with the logical positivist tradition as developed before Second World War in Vienna by the so called Vienna Circle, where prominent figures were Moritz Schlick and Rudoplh Carnap, and in Berlin by Hans Reichenbach and Carl Hempel. It was this tradition that established philosophy of science as an autonomous branch of philosophy setting out its standards. The goal was to provide an analysis of the scientific method, of the nature of scientific theories and scientific explanation and the tool to be employed was symbolic

logic. Even though Karl Popper (1959) criticized logical positivists' ideas about scientific method, his falsificationism shared with them the goals and the tools of philosophical analysis of science. This point of view has been so influential in university departments that it is called in the literature the standard view of philosophy of science.

The pillars of the standard view were the ideas that a clear-cut distinction can be made between how scientific hypotheses are discovered and how they are justified, that the business of philosophers of science is justification, that a division between an observational language and a theoretical language can be drawn, and that the knowledge content of a scientific theory can be fully expressed by a formal language. The distinction between the context of discovery and the context of justification allowed to leave the sociological and psychological components of the process of scientific theorizing out of the picture of the scientific method, and it went together with the idea that observational and experimental practices belong to the context of discovery, and therefore need not to be analyzed, and their outcomes can be distilled into a crystal–clear observational language that constitutes the neutral ground against which theoretical hypotheses can be tested.

As a consequence of these two ideas, it was believed that theories could be detached from the complex process of the collection and organization of scientific data behind them, that they could be represented as linguistic entities (sentences of a theoretical language) and that scientific data themselves could be posited as linguistic entities (sentences of the observational language) that have a direct relation of reference and truth with physical entities (sense data, numerical readings on instruments, etc.). The application of logics and some cognitive virtues, like simplicity, consiliency, predictive power, explanatory power, guarantee the choice of the overall best theory among the competitors, given the available empirical evidence.

Scientific change was seen as the process of successively incorporating earlier

and successful theories into the framework of their successors so that factual and predictive control over nature cumulatively increases over time, and this cumulative progress is objective and universal. It was believed to be objective in two senses: the observational language is intersubjectively available to all impartial observers, and both observational sentences and theoretical sentences can be translated and formulated in the language of mathematical logic. Science is universal since the methodological norms of science are invariably instantiated in various cultures and at different times.

This idea of scientific cumulative progress had its counterpart in the idea of a

cumulative technological progress, following naturally and smoothly from the increasing predictive control over nature provided by pure science, the linear or osmotic model of R&D: Aichholzer and Schienstock (1994), Ruivo (1994). Technology is applied science and scientific research is a sufficient and necessary condition for technological innovation (the science push): therefore, the goal of government must be financing basic research that is not rentable for private enterprises but will be beneficial for the economy and society at large: Bush (1945). This view of technological process was coupled with traditional organization theory, which conceived of organization as a machine for information processing, that produces the knowledge needed for obtaining a given goal by the application of formal, systematic and codified procedures to quantifiable data.

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