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Chapter Two

A Minimal Realism for Science Studies

© Jeff Kochan, CC BY 4.0 http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0129.02

1. Introduction

One of the most ridiculed concepts in Heidegger’s work is his ‘question of being.’ An unlikely collection of critics, ranging from the philosopher Simon Blackburn to the science studies scholar Bruno Latour have exercised considerable rhetorical flair in roundly repudiating the significance of this question. Blackburn pokes fun at those who ‘flutter around the flame of Being.’ Latour lampoons Heidegger’s ‘epigones [who] do not expect to find Being except along the Black Forest Holzwege,’ and he burlesques their alleged claim that ‘[w]e are keeping the little flame of Being safe from everything, and you, who have all the rest, have nothing.’1 For the incorrigibly counter-suggestive, like me, such enthusiastic denunciations from on high encourage the thought that Heidegger’s question of being may warrant close attention after all. Indeed, as I hope to demonstrate in this chapter, Heidegger’s question yields resources for a minimal realism compatible with the social constructivism of science studies.

Heidegger’s question of being can be more fully described as the question of the meaning of being. The words ‘meaning’ and ‘being’ may raise expectations that the question will lead us into deep and mysterious philosophical waters, but, in fact, we may profitably address it on the most superficial and mundane of levels. The word ‘being’ translates the German infinitive sein, which can be more strictly rendered as ‘to be.’ Hence the German sentence ‘Alle wollen glücklich sein’ means ‘Everybody wants to be happy.’ Note that, unlike the other terms in this sentence, the verb ‘to be’ does not refer to anything. Its role is rather to bind together and give an overall meaning to the sentence. The word ‘being’ should, therefore, not be mistaken for the name of an entity, or thing. As Heidegger writes, ‘[t]he Being of entities “is” not itself an entity.’2 If ‘being’ names anything at all, then it names the way in which things gather together and so acquire meaning. According to Heidegger, this is an ontological event with a temporal structure. The question of the meaning of being thus motivates an enquiry into the way meaning takes place as this temporal event. Heidegger’s question is not ‘What meaning does “being” have?’ Meaning is not a thing being possesses. The question is rather ‘How does “being” mean?’ Meaning is an event, something being does. Grammatically, the phrase ‘the meaning of being’ is similar in structure to the phrase ‘the thrill of a lifetime.’ The thrill is not the property of a lifetime, because a lifetime is not a thing with properties. A lifetime is a historical-existential space wherein thrills can happen. Likewise, being is a historical-existential space wherein meaning can happen.

Heidegger observes that, because the word ‘being’ and its cognates play such a ubiquitous role in our language, we tend simply to take them for granted, without giving them a second thought. Yet, he argues, useful insights may be won by turning ‘being’ from a taken-for-granted resource into a topic for investigation. One such insight will be especially crucial for this chapter: the polysemy of ‘being.’ The word ‘being’ carries connotations of both existence and essence. By attaching the name of a thing to the verb ‘to be,’ one may then say of the thing that it is, or what it is, or both. As will be discussed later, Heidegger marks this as a distinction between the ‘that-being’ and the ‘what-being’ of a thing, a move which furthermore distinguishes between the thing’s existence and its essence. We have already encountered this lattermost distinction in Chapter One.

The distinction between existence and essence, between the that-being and the what-being of a thing, is an ancient one, and it also features prominently in several of Heidegger’s works. Nevertheless, the distinction has been largely overlooked by those writers concerned with explicating Heidegger’s views on science and realism. One such writer, Joseph Rouse, stands out as being both a highly regarded expositor of Heidegger’s philosophy of science, on the one hand, and a key contributor to theoretical debates in science studies, on the other. The latter half of this chapter will give focussed attention to his work on both counts. Two other writers, while not having bridged between Heidegger and science studies to the same degree as Rouse, also bear mentioning: Trish Glazebrook and Dimitri Ginev.3 Like Rouse, neither Glazebrook nor Ginev have recognised the important role played by Heidegger’s distinction between existence and essence. Glazebrook has come the closest, correctly observing that Heidegger was vexed by the problem of how a worldly thing may be acknowledged to exist independently of the subject when its intelligibility nevertheless depends on that subject. As we will see, Heidegger uses the distinction between existence and essence to solve this problem, recognising the independent existence of a thing while maintaining the necessary dependence of its essence, construed broadly to include its core meaning or basic intelligibility, on the subjectivity of the subject. Glazebrook, in contrast, argues that Heidegger solves this problem by differentiating between a thing and its being, what is conventionally called the ‘ontological difference.’4 But this cuts the knot in the wrong place. The distinction between independent existence and dependent essence is a distinction in the being of a thing, not between a thing and its being: ‘it is precisely the two of them that make up the structure of being.’5 As will be explained below, this distinction stems from the difference between a thing’s existing but meaning nothing, and its existing and meaning something. By picking up the wrong distinction, Glazebrook is forced to grapple with a range of deep paradoxes, and it is not clear to me that she succeeds in resolving them. For example, on the one hand, she argues that ‘for Heidegger, it is an incoherent demand to make of realists that they hold the independence thesis.’ On the other, she also argues that Heidegger was a ‘robust scientific realist.’6 As I will argue, the independence thesis is the basic doctrine of realism, including scientific realism, and Heidegger was a realist just because he accepted this doctrine. He was, however, not a scientific realist; he was what I call a ‘minimal realist.’ Glazebrook’s account of Heidegger’s realism is an undoubtedly complex and difficult one. I commend my own account as a simpler, more modest, and more useful alternative.

This chapter begins with an explication of Heidegger’s early existential conception of science. Heidegger introduced this conception as an alternative to the dominant logical conception, which views science as a conceptual system. He thus draws attention to the concrete, existential structures of scientific practice which are necessary for more abstract, theoretical reflection. Theory needs method, and method is concretely enacted in the world. Although Glazebrook is aware of this aspect of Heidegger’s account of science, she nevertheless repeatedly attributes to him the view that science is a ‘conceptual scheme.’7 She shares this tendency with both Rouse and Ginev, but whereas Glazebrook attributes the position without criticism, the other two treat it as evidence for Heidegger’s failure to have fully embraced scientific practice, and hence to have entirely freed himself from the orthodox trappings of a theory-dominant view of science.8 Ginev credits Rouse with this criticism, which is based on the claim that the ‘mathematical projection of nature,’ which Heidegger located at the heart of modern science, is an inherently theoretical phenomenon. I will argue, to the contrary, that Heidegger introduced the mathematical projection as an existential phenomenon which serves as a condition of possibility for both theory and practice in the sciences.9 Once again, Glazebrook comes the closest to my own view when she writes that Heidegger’s strategy ‘is not to establish a secure bridge between praxical involvement and theoretical analysis, but rather to trace both back to being-in-the-world.’ This strikes me as largely correct.10 Although scientific theory is necessarily enabled by practice, Heidegger resisted the urge to explain it reductively in terms exclusively of practice. This challenges the widespread view in science studies that theory can be unproblematically reduced to practice. By simply collapsing one side of the theory-practice divide into the other, the basic motivations which originally gave rise to and justified that divide are left hopelessly obscure. I will not, in this chapter, make any satisfying attempt to clear up this obscurity. Such an attempt will come later in Chapter Five, when we consider the relation between mathematical and empirical modes of scientific existence. Meanwhile, in this chapter, by at least drawing attention to this obscurity, I hope to begin undermining the unreflective business-as-usual attitude of many contemporary practice theorists towards the theory-practice divide.

Under the flag of a ‘practical hermeneutics of science,’ Rouse has been most enthusiastic about clearing the deck of theory and raising in its place an account of science based solely on the notion of practice. In the process, he has not only criticised the early Heidegger for allegedly retreating back into a theory-dominant account of science, but proponents of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) as well. In the former case, Rouse’s misconstrual of Heidegger’s concept of mathematical projection, as referring to a theoretical rather than an existential phenomenon, leads him to exaggerate the extent to which Heidegger asserted the independence of theory from practice. Transfixed as he is by the theory-practice divide, Rouse fails to realise that a refusal to collapse theory into practice does not necessarily evince a counter-desire to collapse practice into theory. In the latter case, Rouse also exaggerates the commitment of SSK to a theory-dominant account of science, but he makes a good point that SSK remains debilitated by a vestigial commitment to a problematic theory of knowledge. I examined this vestigial commitment in Chapter One, suggesting there that SSK could overcome this epistemological problematic by adopting key aspects of Heidegger’s existential phenomenology. In this chapter, I apply a similar strategy in order to defend SSK against Rouse’s criticisms. On this basis, I conclude that Rouse’s attempt to undermine SSK is not successful.

The gist of my argument is that Rouse’s practice-based account of science poses no threat to the minimal realism which I draw out of Heidegger’s work and recommend for science studies. Indeed, Rouse’s attempts to close the door on realism appear unsuccessful even in the case of his own practical hermeneutics of science. As I will demonstrate, despite his theoretical attempts to keep the realist’s basic independence thesis at bay, a close look at the way Rouse concretely articulates that theory reveals his own informal and unreflective commitment to that very thesis. The incoherent relationship between Rouse’s theory and practice springs from his failure to recognize Heidegger’s distinction between existence and essence. I suggest, then, that the practical hermeneutics commended by Rouse is best replaced with an existential phenomenology of science, because the latter is better able to accommodate the basic realist doctrine of independent existence.

Minimal realism is thus not a repudiation of practice and a flight back into theory. It is instead a recognition that theory and practice are phenomenologically distinct ways of actualising the range of possibilities opened up by the form of existence Heidegger dubbed the ‘mathematical projection of nature.’ Ginev criticises Rouse for not paying adequate attention to the existential basis, and especially the existential specificity, of science, and he deplores Rouse’s consequent tendency to uncritically assimilate science into the broader cultural sphere in which it is embedded. According to Ginev, one can abandon a theory-dominant account of science while still viewing science as a unique and specifiable form of existence, one distinct from other forms of cultural existence.11 As far as the minimal realist is concerned, this suggests that science may get at the real, at independently existing things, in ways characteristically distinct from the other forms of existence also enabled by our history and culture. This is an important point, which ultimately leads to political questions about the relationship between science and the broader social sphere. I will briefly comment on this in the concluding section of this chapter, and again in Chapter Seven of this book. For the time being, let us focus on the issue of realism and science, beginning with a discussion of Heidegger’s existential conception of science, then exploring the significance of this conception for SSK, and finally defending the resultant account of minimal realism from the challenge posed to it by Rouse’s practical hermeneutics of scientific practice.

2. Heidegger’s Existential Conception of Science

In his 1927 book, Being and Time, Heidegger distinguishes between a ‘logical’ and an ‘existential’ conception of science.12 The logical account understands science according to the representation of nature it produces, and the validity of this representation is itself defined as having been established on the basis of a coherent body of interconnected true propositions. On this account, then, science is taken to be a conceptual scheme. On the existential account, in contrast, science is understood to be a mode of existence, a way of being-in-the-world, which brings to light things for theoretical understanding. It is important to emphasise that these two conceptions of science are not opposed to one another. Heidegger commits himself to an existential conception of science, but he does not, in doing so, reject the logical conception as wrong or absurd. On the contrary, the existential account is meant to explain how the logical account is possible; it seeks to reveal the existential conditions necessary for the emergence of the theoretical attitude presupposed in the logical account. By undertaking a phenomenological investigation into the mode of existence which makes science possible, Heidegger shifts attention from science construed as a body of concepts and formal logical rules to science construed as an ongoing, goal-oriented human activity. In other words, he focuses on what scientists do, and also on the way they must experience and understand their relation to the world in order to do what they do.

By emphasising the actions of scientists, Heidegger would seem to adopt an approach similar to the one generally prevailing in science studies. Bloor, Barnes, and Henry, for example, write that ‘[f]or the scientist the world is the object of study; for the sociologist it is the scientist-studying-the-world that is the object.’13 Yet Heidegger also stresses that he is primarily concerned neither with the historical development of science, nor with the particular goal-directed activities of scientists working in specific contexts. Hence, Heidegger’s existential conception of science cannot be straightforwardly assimilated to the view of science favoured by SSK practitioners. Indeed, one crucial difference is that Heidegger, unlike Barnes, Bloor, and Henry, does not conceptualise the scientist-studying-the-world as an object. The reasons for this have already been covered in Chapter One. Rejecting a view dating back as far as Aristotle, Heidegger argues that the subject (Dasein), including the scientific subject, should not be conceptualised in fundamental terms as a thing, substance, or object. The subject is, rather, existence. By undertaking a phenomenological analysis of the basic existential structures of the subjectivity of the subject, Heidegger attempts to counteract the traditional metaphysical tendency to construe persons as special instances of a more general ontological category of ‘thing.’ In reserving the term ‘existence’ exclusively for the subject, and in order to guard against the subject’s being conflated with a thing, Heidegger refers to the existence of things as ‘presence-at-hand’ (Vorhandenheit). His existential conception of science thus focuses on the activities of scientists, rather than on bodies of scientific knowledge, because such activities provide a necessary basis for scientific subjectivity, for the particular mode of existence within which scientific knowledge is produced and sustained.

Heidegger calls the ground state of the subject’s elemental being-in-the-world ‘circumspective concern.’ This is what, in Chapter One, was referred to as immersed involvement. Determining the conditions of possibility for the theoretical attitude involves analysing the existential conditions under which theoretical thinking emerges from a basic everyday state of immersed involvement in a world. As discussed in Chapter One, Heidegger analyses this emergence in terms of four steps, which lead from immersed involvement to propositionally structured thinking. First, one holds back from immersed involvement so as to merely look at things, and no more. Second, pure looking becomes a thematising in which things are encountered as objects of perception. Third, perception interprets things so as to determine their properties. Fourth, determinate objects become the subject matter for propositional knowledge claims. Heidegger calls this transformation in the way things in the world are experienced a ‘change-over’ in the subject’s mode of understanding. The phenomenological analysis of this change-over plays a central role in Heidegger’s existential conception of science, and thus merits detailed examination.

Heidegger presents the change-over as a transition from an experience of things as ‘ready-to-hand’ to an experience of them as ‘present-at-hand.’ Things that are, in this context, present-at-hand are those encountered once one holds back from involvement with a thing and begins to interpret it as an object with determinable properties. In this context, then, a present-at-hand thing is called an ‘object.’ In contrast, things which are ready-to-hand are called ‘equipment,’ that is, things encountered in a basic existential state of immersed involvement in a world. On this account, the world in which one is always already immersed and involved is a world of equipment, what Heidegger also calls a ‘work-world.’14 He observes that, when we are absorbed in this work-world, our attention is not focussed on the equipment we use; rather, it is focussed primarily on the work.15 For example, when one signs one’s name, one does not focus on the pen in one’s hand or the paper on which one signs, but on the act of signing. Similarly, when a cyclist rides along a busy street, her attention is focussed not on her bicycle but on the task of cycling. Both pen and bicycle are, in these cases, experienced as things ready-to-hand, as equipment the significance of which lies in the task towards which it is, at that moment, being put. Pieces of equipment are put to use in an activity, but the activity is not about them. They are not the theme of the activity, much less its object. They are not, in other words, the topic of the activity, but a resource enabling that activity.

In clarifying how the change-over in understanding gets going, Heidegger must explain how a basic state of everyday immersed involvement could come to be disturbed or interrupted. He must, in other words, give some account of how one comes to leave behind this basic state, how one comes to hold back from involvement and begins to instead experience a thing as the theme of one’s activity, and so as its object. This problem can be usefully contrasted with the problem of the external world, discussed in Chapter One. There the difficulty was to explain how a subject may gain access to a world from which it remains fundamentally separated. The solution demands an account of how the subject breaks free from the finite limits of its own internal state by building an epistemic bridge over to the external world which, in turn, exists in fundamental ontological separation from that subject. Traditionally, it is said to do this through the exercise of a transcendent reason. In the case of Heidegger’s existential phenomenology, in contrast, the question of how the subject gains access to the external world never arises, because subject and world were never separated in the first place. In the former case, the problem is to explain how a basic deficiency in the subject’s relation to the world may be overcome through the transcendent power of reason. In the latter case, the problem is to explain how one’s basic existential absorption in a work-world may suddenly become deficient, how one might abruptly withdraw from the everyday work-world in which one is normally immersed. Only through this sudden deficiency in one’s workaday relation to things can the change-over get going.

Heidegger addresses this problem by considering what happens when a ‘breakdown’ occurs in the smooth functioning of the subject’s workaday world, when the circumspective concern characteristic of one’s most immediate involvement with equipment becomes disturbed or interrupted. As a result of such an equipmental breakdown,
‘[t]he presence-at-hand of entities is thrust to the fore.’16 One situation in which a breakdown may occur is when, in the course of everyday activity, something vital is suddenly found missing. In an obvious sense, the missing thing is not ready-to-hand; indeed, it is not ‘to hand’ at all. However, insofar as the readiness-to-hand of some other thing may depend on the missing thing, this other thing now loses its familiar readiness-to-hand and begins to obtrude as something present-at-hand. For example, my office door is ready-to-hand when there is a key to open it. If, however, I have forgotten my key, the door suddenly loses much of its equipmental significance, or meaning. If it is Sunday morning, when the administration is normally absent, then the readiness-to-hand of the door recedes still further. I encounter the door as ever more useless, a mere obstacle confounding the smooth running of the workaday context in which I normally find myself. If, furthermore, I have a flight leaving that morning, and my flight tickets and passport are locked in my office, then the door may lose entirely its significance as something ready-to-hand. I now encounter it in its brute existence, as a useless thing which just stands there confounding my travel plans. As Heidegger writes:

The more urgently [Je dringlicher] we need what is missing, and the more authentically it is encountered in its un-readiness-to-hand, all the more obtrusive [um so aufdringlicher] does that which is ready-to-hand become — so much so, indeed, that it seems to lose its character of readiness-to-hand. It reveals itself as something present-at-hand and no more, which cannot be budged without the thing that is missing. The helpless way in which we stand before it is a deficient mode of concern, and as such it uncovers the Being-just-present-at-hand-and-no-more of something ready-to-hand.17

The sudden breakdown in the equipmental context of a work-world, which follows from the discovery that something vital to our operations in that world has gone missing, jars our attention from absorption in the task at hand, suddenly bringing forward the presence-at-hand of what is normally experienced as ready-to-hand.

Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis of breakdowns in circumspective concern demonstrates how a deficiency can suddenly appear in the subject’s basic relation to a work-world, and hence also how its understanding of things as ready-to-hand may begin to change over to an understanding of things as present-at-hand within the world. In this first step, I encounter things as ‘being-just-present-at-hand-and-no-more.’ In some cases, the change-over may go no further than this: the overworked department head may suddenly appear in the hallway with a master key, allowing me to carry on with my travel plans. Yet, in other cases, one’s understanding, rather than reverting back to a basic existential state of circumspective concern, may change over to a new mode of understanding through a process which Heidegger calls ‘thematising.’ This process is central to his existential conception of science.

We have already encountered Heidegger’s concept of thematising in summarising the four-stage change-over from immersed involvement to the theoretical attitude. After immersed involvement switches to a state of pure looking (stage one), a thing becomes thematised as an object of perception (stage two). Indeed, Heidegger emphasises that: ‘Thematizing Objectifies.’18 The change-over marks a shift from understanding a thing in the world as ready-to-hand to understanding it as present-at-hand, as an object. This is a shift in the existential structure of understanding, a structure Heidegger calls ‘projection.’19 He argues that only on the basis of a projection do we encounter a thing as meaningful: ‘The primary projection of the understanding of Being “gives” the meaning.’20 The projection may thus be understood as providing the background of intelligibility against which things come to be perceived as objects with determinate properties (stage three), and thence as the subject matter for propositional knowledge claims (stage four). It should be noted, however, that the projection, as the basic structure of understanding, is present even when no change-over occurs; it resides just as much in the undisturbed practical understanding characteristic of immersed involvement in a work-world. Whether one understands a thing as ready-to-hand or as present-at-hand within-the-world, such an understanding will always have the structure of a projection.21

Heidegger argues that scientific understanding is structured on the existential level by a particular kind of projection. The existentially decisive feature of science is, in his view, neither empirical observation nor mathematical modelling, but rather ‘the way in which Nature herself is mathematically projected.’22 This mathematical projection determines the range of possible ways in which nature may be intelligibly experienced, and so understood, both at the practical and the theoretical level. It furthermore serves as the existential source from which the logical conception of science draws its own currency. In the context of scientific activity, the change-over from immersed involvement to a theoretical conception of nature is a shift in the existential structure of the mathematical projection. According to Heidegger, within the scope of intelligibility opened up by this projection, pure looking shifts specifically towards a perception of things as objects which can be quantitatively determined in terms of such general categories as motion, force, location, and time. Only on the basis of this kind of projection can the scientist discover something like a ‘fact’ which may then be set up as part of an experimental investigation.23 Heidegger suggests that this mathematical grounding of factual science was possible only because researchers recognised that there are, in principle, no bare facts. Science projects the factuality of things in terms of categories amenable to quantitative analysis. Furthermore, it does this in such a way that the measurability of those things is disclosed as an a priori feature of their being. Heidegger thus argues that the existential conditions of possibility for the empirico-mathematical sciences are manifest in the projection of nature as being essentially measurable in a fixed, quantitative sense. After these conditions have been fulfilled, the horizon within which the subject is able to intelligibly encounter things limits the possible ways in which things may be discovered within the world. Heidegger writes that the aim of thematising is ‘to free the entities we encounter within-the-world, and to free them in such a way that they can “throw themselves against” a pure discovering — that is, in such a way that they can become “Objects.”’24

Once there has been a disturbance in our immersed involvement with things as ready-to-hand, it becomes possible for that non-deliberative involvement to change over into thematising, and hence for us to begin experiencing things as objects rather than as equipment. Heidegger emphasises that the change-over in our understanding, from non-deliberative use of a thing in the course of everyday activity, at the one extreme, to thematising and then making propositional assertions about that thing, at the other, is marked by a number of intermediate steps. As thematising begins to objectify a thing, that thing acquires a more determinate meaning; it comes to be experienced as an object whose properties are an increasingly well-defined and stable subject matter for assertions, and thus better fitted to the propositional structure of theoretical and logical modes of understanding. Heidegger also calls this a process of articulation: ‘thematizing modifies and Articulates the understanding of Being.’25 By articulating the meaning of a thing in propositional terms, thematising may also affect the way we understand, and hence practically engage with, that thing. Heidegger furthermore warns that the intermediate stages of the thematising process cannot be understood in terms of the theoretical statements which emerge only at the conclusion of the process without dramatically perverting the meaning of those stages. Both these intermediate stages, as well as the theoretical assertions they finally constitute, have their ‘source’ in a circumspective, or practical, form of interpretation.26 For this reason, Heidegger argues that logic is rooted in existence.27 The more general conclusion to be drawn from this is that the logical conception of science, which views science as a coherent body of true propositions, has its own original source in a specific existential mode of understanding structured by the mathematical projection of nature.

The final implication of Heidegger’s existential conception of science is that to construe science in purely theoretical terms, as a body of logically organised true propositions, as a conceptual scheme, is to ultimately misunderstand its significance as a human enterprise. He emphasises that scientific concepts cannot be understood independently of scientific method, and that ‘theoretical research is not without a praxis of its own.’28 Unsurprisingly, then, his account of science gives a central and consequential place to scientists’ practical manipulation of equipment:

Reading off the measurements which result from an experiment often requires a complicated ‘technical’ set-up for the experimental design. Observation with a microscope is dependent upon the production of ‘preparations.’ Archaeological excavation, which precedes any Interpretation of the ‘findings,’ demands manipulations of the grossest kind. But even in the ‘most abstract’ way of working out problems and establishing what has been obtained, one manipulates equipment for writing, for example. However ‘uninteresting’ and ‘obvious’ such components of scientific research may be, they are by no means a matter of indifference ontologically.29

Indeed, equipmental manipulations play an integral role in the thematising process which gives rise to theoretical knowledge. It is not just linguistic practices but also concrete material practices which serve to more precisely articulate the meaning of the things taken up as a subject matter for science. To say that the instruments and material practices of a science are, in part, constitutive of its theoretical and logical content is to make a strong ontological claim about the interdependence of theory and practice. Yet interdependence is not identity. While theory cannot be understood independently of the linguistic and material practices which constitute it, it is clear that, for Heidegger, theory and practice remain different modes of scientific understanding. He views them as distinct but related existential modalities within which the intelligibility of things becomes possible.

Heidegger thus appears to suggest that the emergence of a new theoretical form of understanding, especially as exemplified historically in the development of mathematical physics, marks the emergence of a new ontological condition, a new form to human existence wherein the subject understands itself as a mental substance and the things surrounding it as objects with quantifiably determinable properties. In this process, the subject’s own subjectivity likewise becomes increasingly modelled in accordance with the proposition: scientific knowledge is propositionally structured knowledge. Heidegger’s existential conception of science thus challenges the priority of the logical conception of science as propositionally structured theory, and seeks to reverse that priority by emphasising the concrete existential conditions on which theoretical knowledge ultimately depends. But this is not a reduction of theory to practice; it is the recognition that, although practical and theoretical behaviour are ontologically distinct, and although the latter emerges in a change-over from the former, each represents a distinct mode of the same existential projection of nature. Theory is distinct from, but not ontologically independent of, practice. Where the line between the two should be drawn, however, is a question Heidegger does not, and perhaps could not, answer. Indeed, he openly lamented that ‘it is by no means patent where the ontological boundary between “theoretical” and “non-theoretical” behaviour really runs!’30 That there is indeed a boundary running between them is, however, something he did not doubt.

3. Getting at the Real

In Chapter One, we briefly considered the way in which Heidegger differentiates his existential analytic of the subject from both realism and idealism. With the above discussion of Heidegger’s existential conception of science now also behind us, it will be worthwhile to return to his comments on realism and idealism and considering them in greater depth.

Heidegger superficially agrees with the realist that things within-the-world are present-at-hand, in the sense that they exist. However, he criticises the realist for conceptualising the presence-at-hand of things in strictly epistemological terms, as the ‘objecthood’ of independently existing objects of knowledge. This conceptualisation takes it for granted that propositional thinking is itself a fundamental mode of the subject’s existence, that the subject’s relation to a thing within-the-world is fundamentally that of a substance-subject examining an independent object. Hence, Heidegger describes realism as the belief that ‘the way to grasp the Real is by that kind of knowing which is characterized by beholding [das anschauende Erkennen].’31 Yet, as we saw in the previous section, such knowing (or cognising) emerges from a change-over in the subject’s understanding of things from things ready-to-hand to things present-at-hand, and so, for this reason, Heidegger goes on to question whether our ‘primary access’ to the real, that is, to existing things, can be suitably captured by the traditional epistemological conception of knowledge as rooted in the observational powers of a substance-subject positioned vis-à-vis an object.32 Indeed, he argues instead that perceptual examination presupposes thematisation. The central failing of realism, according to Heidegger, is that it asserts the independent reality of objects while simultaneously projecting that reality as part of an objectifying thematisation which depends for its possibility on the subject’s existence. In this regard, Heidegger views idealism as the more successful position, since it affirms the ontological dependency of objects on our understanding of them. In other words, idealism rejects the realist claim that our knowledge of objects within-the-world provides evidence for the independent existence of the real as such. However, Heidegger dismisses the conclusion which the idealist then draws from this insight: that the real must therefore exist only in consciousness, that it must be constituted solely by the subject.33 On Heidegger’s account, neither realism nor idealism offers a defensible position because they both remain entangled in the epistemological problematic, and hence they both fail to recognise the ontological basis for that problematic in the subject’s own existence. As he puts it, realism and idealism ‘can exist only on the basis of a neglect: they presuppose a concept of “subject” and “object” without clarifying these basic concepts with respect to the basic composition of Dasein itself.’34

Although Heidegger offers his existential analytic of the subject as an alternative to both realism and idealism, in this section I will argue that Heidegger’s position is nevertheless compatible with a ‘minimal’ form of realism. I contrast this minimal realism with the ‘robust’ realism typically espoused by scientific realists. The difference between these two doctrines becomes clear once we recognise that robust realism is comprised of two distinct theses. The first thesis declares that things can exist independently of our own existence, that they are not the products of our interpretations, theories, or practices. The second thesis makes the more complex assertion that the determinate properties of these things, including their relational or structural properties, can also exist independently of our own existence. Robust realism affirms both the first and the second thesis, while minimal realism affirms only the first thesis. I will call this first thesis the ‘basic independence thesis.’ As we will see in the next section, this twofold account of realism has striking similarities with SSK practitioner Barry Barnes’s account of ‘double-barrelled’ realism.

That Heidegger’s existential conception of science is compatible with the basic independence thesis can be seen in his careful discrimination between reality, on the one hand, and the real, on the other. He writes, for example, that ‘Being (not entities) is dependent on the understanding of Dasein; that is to say, Reality (not the Real) is dependent on care,’ with care being a fundamental existential structure in the subjectivity of the subject. He furthermore emphasises the dependency of reality on the subject when he says of reality that ‘ontologically it has a definite connection in its foundations with Dasein, the world, and readiness-to-hand.’ Finally, he argues that, when entities are conceived as a ‘context of Things (res),’ by which he means a context of ‘substances,’ the being of those entities acquires the meaning of ‘Reality,’ or ‘substantiality.’35 Again, the idea is that things can be held distinct from the way in which they are experienced and conceptualised by the subject, including their conceptualisation as property-bearing substances. In short, one may interpret Heidegger as arguing that reality depends on the subject’s understanding. In the absence of such understanding, there can be no reality. However, the real, in contrast, is independent of the subject’s understanding, and hence may exist in the absence of such understanding. Note, furthermore, that Heidegger is careful to distinguish the independent existence of the real from the assertion of its independent existence.

Of course only as long as Dasein is (that is, only as long as an understanding of Being is […] possible), ‘is there’ [gibt es] Being. When Dasein does not exist, ‘independence’ ‘is’ not either, nor ‘is’ the ‘in-itself.’ In such a case this sort of thing can be neither understood nor not understood. In such a case even entities within-the-world can neither be discovered nor lie hidden. In such a case it cannot be said that entities are, nor can it be said that they are not. But now, as long as there is an understanding of Being and therefore an understanding of presence-at-hand, it can indeed be said that in this case entities will still continue to be.36

The point here is that, in the absence of the subject, there would be nobody around to assert the independent existence of the real. The real could thus not be understood to exist independently of the subject because, in such a case, understanding itself would be absent. However, in the context of the current discussion, where there is understanding, it becomes possible to assert that the real does indeed exist independently of our understanding, and furthermore that it will continue to so exist even once we, and hence our understanding, are gone. The assertion that the real exists independently of the subject, and even the fact that it so exists, entails the existence of the subject, but the independent existence of the real does not.

This issue may be further illuminated by introducing a distinction between a thing’s existence and its intelligibility. There is, according to Heidegger, an internal relation between the subject’s being-in-the-world, on the one hand, and the intelligibility of the real, on the other. Only things disclosed within the context of the subject-world relation may be encountered as intelligible. In other words, intelligibility can be a feature only of things within-the-world; a thing without-the-world cannot be understood by the subject, and, for this reason, it cannot be intelligible.

In Being and Time, Heidegger explores two phenomenologically distinct ways in which we may encounter the real as intelligible: either in terms of ‘readiness-to-hand’ (Zuhandenheit, or ‘equipmentality’), or in terms of ‘presence-at-hand’ (Vorhandenheit). In the former case, equipment is that with which we are involved in our workaday dealings in the world. In the course of our ongoing immersed involvement with equipmental things, we understand the world as a work-world, a totality of interrelated equipment available for our use. In the latter case, substances, or objects, are those things about which we concern ourselves when we take up a spectator’s position in the world. Through our encounters with things as objects of observation, we may thus develop an understanding of the world as an object-world, a totality of substance with thematically determinable properties. According to Heidegger, the world encountered in this second way is what realists refer to as ‘reality.’ Realists thus violate the basic independence thesis insofar as they identify the real, as such, with the way it is encountered ‘in reality,’ that is, in the world constituted by a particular mode of the subject’s projective understanding.

From this it should be clear that to distinguish the existence of the real from its intelligibility is to assert that the real may exist without the world, which is just to say, without the subject. This assertion forms the basis for the minimal realism which I suggest is present in Heidegger’s early work. The assertion is most powerfully evinced in Being and Time, in the different ways in which Heidegger uses the term ‘present-at-hand,’ and in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, with the distinction he draws between the existence and essence of a thing. Let us now consider the evidence from these two texts.

That Heidegger uses the term ‘present-at-hand’ in different ways has often been overlooked by commentators, and this has led to significant confusion over his intentions in Being and Time. One influential example of such confusion, present in the work of Joseph Rouse, will be addressed later in this chapter. In the meantime, it should be noted that Heidegger himself did not articulate these different uses as explicitly as he might have, and so responsibility for the subsequent confusion must lie, in some considerable part, at his own feet. Possibly the best study seeking to clarify these tricky exegetical matters comes from Joseph Fell, who detects at least four distinct senses for the term ‘present-at-hand’ in Heidegger’s early work. Only two of these need worry us here.37 In the first case, a thing is encountered as present-at-hand following a local breakdown in the subject’s workaday world. In the second case, the term denotes those things which have been thematised as objects. In the first case, one encounters the real as something which exists but which cannot be understood, something which lacks intelligibility. In the second case, one encounters the real as something which both exists and is intelligible. We have already met both of these modes of being present-at-hand in the previous section. According to Heidegger’s phenomenological description of equipmental breakdowns, when I stand desperate and discombobulated in front of my locked office door, I experience the door deficiently as a thing ‘just-present-at-hand-and-no-more.’ In contrast, when I encounter a thing thematically, as an object of perception, and hence also as the potential subject matter for a propositional assertion, I experience it as possessing ‘a definite character in its being-present-at-hand-in-such-and-such-a-manner.’38 These two ways in which the real can be present-at-hand — as either present-at-hand-in-such-and-such-a-manner or present-at-hand-and-no-more — correspond, respectively, to things present-at-hand within-the-world and things present-at-hand without-the-world. The second is phenomenologically available only when there is a deficiency in our understanding, a breakdown in the subject-world relation. Under these circumstances, we can still say that the thing exists, but we cannot say what it is. When such a deficiency occurs, the real can still be experienced as something which exists, but it lacks any determinate character by which we could make sense of it.

This crucial distinction is a central outcome of Heidegger’s enquiry into the ‘question of being,’ that is, into the meaning of the infinitive verb ‘to be’ and its cognates. In Being and Time, Heidegger lists a number of ‘prejudices and presuppositions which are constantly reimplanting and fostering the belief that an inquiry into Being is unnecessary.’39 One such prejudice is the assumption that the meaning of ‘being’ is self-evident. He notes that ‘[w]henever one cognizes anything or makes an assertion, whenever one comports oneself towards things, even towards oneself, some use is made of “Being”; and this expression is held to be intelligible “without further ado,” just as everyone understands “The sky is blue,” “I am merry,” and the like.’40 Heidegger resists the impulse to treat the meaning of ‘being’ as self-evident. One important observation he makes is that the word ‘being’ is polysemic. In The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, a set of lectures he delivered in 1927, the same year in which Being and Time was published, Heidegger identifies at least two basic meanings for the term ‘being’ — existence and essence — and he argues that both belong to the being of a thing. Furthermore, the existence of a thing answers to the question of whether it is, and its essence answers to the question of what it is.41 Two years later, in a 1929–1930 lecture course, Heidegger would restate the whether and what of a thing in terms of a thing’s ‘that-being’ and ‘what-being.’42 In most cases, these two meanings will combine in a single proposition: ‘The sky is blue’ tells us both that there is a sky, that it exists, and that it has the property, the whatness or quidditas, of being blue.

The distinction between existence and essence is an ancient one. Indeed, Heidegger points out that its roots can be traced back to the biblical notion of a divine Creator: ‘The ancient distinction runs thus: Since every entity that is actual comes from God, the understanding of the being of entities must ultimately be traced back to God.’43 This ancient doctrine was transformed by medieval Christian metaphysicians into the idea that entities exist only as the creatures of God, that is, as produced. Hence, essence — as pure potentiality in the ‘mind’ of God — takes priority over existence — as God’s idea made actual. Echoing Plato, the philosopher Charles Kahn has offered an apt description of this doctrine: ‘existence now tends to be thought of as the final push into actual being provided by the Demiurge, as He sends things forth from His pre-cosmic workshop of logical possibilities.’44

As we saw in Chapter One, Heidegger reversed this ontological order in his existential analysis of the subject. For him, ‘[t]he essence of Dasein lies in its existence.’45 We can now see that Heidegger made a similar move with respect to present-at-hand things, that is, things which exist but are not subjects, insofar as he took their existence to also be phenomenologically prior to their essence. However, such things are unlike the subject in that their essence does not lie in their own existence; it lies rather in the world as constituted by the existence of the subject. Hence, the essence of such things depends on our existence, but their existence does not. It is important to note that Heidegger does not so much reject the ancient productionist metaphysics as challenge its Christian interpretation. As the source of essence and meaning, human beings now assume the role of creator. Yet, notwithstanding such fictional things as Don Quixote or Daffy Duck, neither of which is present-at-hand, human beings do not produce things ex nihilo. Indeed, drawing from a pre-Christian productionist metaphysics, the early Heidegger argues that when something is produced it is always produced from something else; the notion of production thus always presupposes the prior existence of some material: ‘If we bring to mind productive comportment in the scope of its full structure we see that it always makes use of what we call material, for instance, material for building a house. On its part this material is in the end not in turn produced but is already there.’46 From this observation, Heidegger draws the more general conclusion that, when considering any productive activity, ‘matter’ necessarily arises as a basic phenomenological concept.47 The subject discovers this indeterminate material in use as equipment ready-to-hand, or the subject may step back and observe it as an object present-at-hand. In either case, the material is experienced as something within-the-world, as ‘intraworldly.’ Yet Heidegger also makes it clear that this material, which he also calls ‘nature,’ does not depend on the subject for its existence:

[I]ntraworldliness does not belong to nature’s being. Rather, in commerce with this entity, nature in the broadest sense, we understand that this entity is as something extant, as an entity that we come up against, to which we are delivered over, which on its own part already is. It is, even if we do not uncover it, without our encountering it within our world. Being within the world devolves upon this entity, nature, solely when it is uncovered as an entity.48

So as to leave no doubt that this indeterminate thing, nature, can exist independently of subjectivity and world, Heidegger repeats the point several more times: ‘[n]ature can also be when no Dasein exists’; ‘[n]ature can also be without there being a world, without a Dasein existing.’49 My argument in this section has been that Heidegger’s concepts of pure extantness or existence, of presence-at-hand without-the-world, of indeterminate matter, and of independent nature can all be read as various attempts to get at ‘the real,’ that is, at that which exists independently of our theoretical and practical activity. Together, they provide a richly articulated argument in defence of the basic independence thesis, and hence for the position I call ‘minimal realism.’

In the next section, we will return to a discussion of the sociology of scientific knowledge. Specifically, I aim to show that SSK’s oft-overlooked endorsement of realism is importantly similar to the minimal realism I have now drawn out of Heidegger’s early texts. By exploiting these similarities, it becomes possible to free SSK’s realism from the difficulties arising from its lingering adherence to the ontology implicit in the orthodox subject-object distinction. In the next but one section, I will then demonstrate the virtues of minimal realism in critical comparison with an influential, alternative interpretation of early Heidegger’s philosophy of science, that of Joseph Rouse.

4. A Phenomenological Reformulation of SSK’s Residual Realism

As discussed in Chapter One, SSK practitioners are often criticised by their opponents for allegedly subscribing to sociological idealism. The underlying premise driving such criticism seems to be that social constructivism is incompatible with realism. There is a puzzle here, however, as leading SSK practitioners have consistently insisted on their credentials both as social constructivists and as realists. For them, the two positions are not mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that social constructivists do reject something that scientific realists hold dear. So, what is it? Barry Barnes provides an answer. He suggests that realism, as it is usually defined in the literature, is actually a ‘double-barrelled’ realism, that is, a combination of two distinct claims: (1) that an external reality exists independently of our beliefs and theories; and (2) that the truth of specific beliefs and theories is determined by that reality.50 Barnes claims that most realists in the philosophy of science take both of these claims for granted, but that the first alone provides sufficient grounds for claiming the credentials of a realist. It is this first claim which many SSK practitioners accept, making them adherents to a position which Barnes dubs ‘residual realism.’ He argues that residual realism is compatible with social constructivism.

Barnes’s distinction immediately recalls the distinction I drew in the previous section between two theses: the independent existence of nature; and the independent existence of the determinate properties or structures of nature. I called the first of these the ‘basic independence thesis’ and defined minimal realism as a position which affirms this first thesis while rejecting the second. Barnes’s first claim appears almost identical with the basic independence thesis, and thus his residual realism would seem very close to my minimal realism. Indeed, at one point in his discussion, Barnes even describes residual realism as ‘minimal realism.’51 Yet, there is an important difference between the two. Barnes’s residual realism asserts the independence of an ‘external reality.’ Minimal realism, in contrast, asserts the independence of an indeterminate and undifferentiated nature. As we have seen, there is an important conceptual difference between the notion of an indeterminate nature and the notion of an external reality: the latter implies a theoretical commitment not found in the former. This is a commitment to what, in Chapter One, I called the glass-bulb model. Because he takes the glass-bulb model for granted, Barnes’s residual realism has more in common with standard forms of realism than does minimal realism.

Heidegger argues that the orthodox realist asserts the independence of reality while unwittingly projecting that reality as part of an objectifying thematisation which itself depends on the subject’s being-in-the-world. ‘Reality’ is thus a concept whose meaning derives from our picture of the world as a totality of objects standing in ontological separation from a cognising subject. On this basis, the traditional realist must now explain how the ontological divide between subject and object may be crossed, how one may transit from the inside to the outside of the glass bulb, how, in short, knowledge of the external world is possible. The prevailing tendency of orthodox realists is to root knowledge of the external world in the observational powers of the subject. Underlying this tendency is the assumption that the subject is itself a special sort of object, a substance with an added perceptual power which gives it access to the objects populating a world beyond itself. Heidegger, of course, rejects the primacy of this epistemological model, analysing it in existential-phenomenological terms as depending on a more basic subject-world relation in light of which the epistemological problematic no longer carries force. In this way, as we saw in Chapter One, Heidegger is able to short-circuit sceptical doubts about the existence of an external world by deconstructing the premises uncritically adopted by the sceptic and traditional realist alike. As we also saw in Chapter One, many SSK practitioners, Barnes included, join traditional realists in uncritically adopting those premises, and so they are perpetually vulnerable to sceptical attack.

My argument in this section is that SSK need only defend the basic independence thesis in order to achieve its goals. This thesis is what remains once one has stripped Barnes’s first claim — that an external reality exists independently of our beliefs and theories — of the additional theoretical premises to which it also needlessly commits itself. Because SSK practitioners have failed to sufficiently recognise the contingency of those premises, thus tacitly accepting the fundamentality of the glass-bulb model, they end up defending an unnecessarily robust position which renders their approach ineluctably vulnerable to sceptical attack. It must be emphasised, however, that, in recommending that SSK practitioners trade their theoretically-loaded residual realism for a more phenomenologically modest minimal realism, I am not suggesting that the orthodox subject-object distinction should simply be abandoned as a useless bit of conceptual confusion. Indeed, one can easily agree that the style of thought which takes this distinction as its foundation has produced valuable results. The point is that this style of thought, despite its success in specific areas, has proved incapable of defending itself against sceptical doubt. Indeed, it may well be that the inescapable possibility of such doubt is an inherent feature of that very style. If the orthodox distinction were accepted as the conceptual bedrock for our way of understanding ourselves and the world in which we live, then we would need to simply accept sceptical doubt as an inevitable feature of our very existence. But neither this distinction nor the ontological presuppositions underlying it form the conceptual bedrock of our understanding, and hence they need not ground our conviction that nature exists independently of our theories, interpretations, and practices. If we wish only to defend the indubitability of the basic independence thesis, then there is no reason why we should also saddle ourselves with the more onerous, and probably fruitless, task of defending the indubitability of an allegedly fundamental distinction between subject and object.

Yet this is just what David Bloor has attempted to do. He argues that the received subject-object distinction, once freed from individualism, is a foundational concept, and he does this on the basis of a theory of reference. In his view, ‘[r]eference is an intentional state demanding intentional, conceptual and propositional content, that is, things which require an explanation of their normativity and objectivity.’52 Bloor naturally favours a sociological explanation of the normativity and objectivity of such content. For him, reference is a collective achievement made possible by social interaction. This sociological theory of the normativity and objectivity of conceptual content is a central pillar of SSK. Bloor furthermore claims that reference is an intentional state demanding intentional, conceptual, and propositional content. For the purposes of the present analysis, whether that content is best explained in collectivist or individualist terms is beside the point. In the remainder of this section, the meaning of the term ‘subject’ should thus be treated as neutral between the terms ‘group’ and ‘individual.’

The principal problem with Bloor’s theory of reference is that he takes it to apply, not just to objects within the world, but to the world as such. He writes of ‘genuine reference to an external reality.’53 In addition, he seems to think that knowledge of an external reality is a necessary condition for reference to particular objects. Yet, from the perspective of existential phenomenology, Bloor has got things backwards. In fact, knowledge of particular objects is a necessary condition for referring to the world, as such, as an external reality. Only once we have experienced things within-the-world as objects, and hence as distinct from a subject, can we then conceptualise the world itself as a reality which stands externally to a subject; only under these conditions does reference to an external reality become possible. Furthermore, reference to an object depends on a specific existential mode of being-in-the-world. We can refer to objects only because we are already in the world; the subject-world relation is ontologically prior to an encounter with things within-the-world as objects. Thus Bloor is right that acceptance of the subject-object distinction is entailed by the claim that an external reality exists, but he is wrong that this claim must be endorsed out of necessity. That he believes we cannot help but accept this claim is implied in his assertion that ‘we are all instinctive realists.’54 But the belief in an external reality is not hardwired into our brains; it is the result of a change-over in the subject’s mode of understanding, a change from immersed involvement with things to a thematising projection of things, and then of the world itself, as objects of knowledge standing in separation from an autonomous subject. Belief in an external reality thus presupposes the diagnostic model of the glass bulb.

The key point here is that the subject-object distinction is a modification of the more fundamental subject-world relation. Moreover, this second relation is internal; there can be no world which exists independently of the subject. The implication is that the subject-object relation is thus also an internal relation; there can be no object which exists independently of the subject. However, this is not to say that nothing at all exists independently of the subject. As Heidegger writes, ‘[n]ature can also be without there being a world, without a Dasein existing.’55 Hence, nature should not be confused with the world, including the world projected thematically as an external reality. Yet this is what Bloor does. He writes that ‘nature, in our ordinary way of thinking, is the object of knowledge, the thing that is known, while science is the knowledge we have of it, our theories about it and our description of it.’56 Bloor appeals to our ‘ordinary’ way of thinking in order to maintain a strict distinction between nature and its scientific description, between an object of cognition and its conceptualisation by a cognising subject. Yet it is not clear why we should accept Bloor’s implicit assumption that ordinary thinking demands acceptance of the subject-object distinction, that is, the theory-laden view that nature itself is an object of observation. It seems more ‘ordinary’ to say that nature is just that which exists independently of our descriptions and theories. This is precisely what is claimed in the basic independence thesis of minimal realism, and it has the advantage of avoiding the sorts of sceptical problems inevitably attracted by a foundational commitment to the subject-object distinction. As long as Bloor insists on calling nature an object, on conceiving of it in terms of one side of the subject-object schema, as long as he takes the glass-bulb model for granted, he cannot comfortably maintain the independence thesis that is basic to any genuine realist position. However, as soon as he gives up conceptualising nature as an object, he can no longer include nature, as such, under the umbrella of his theory of reference, because under that theory reference is always reference to an object, to a thing present-at-hand within-the-world.

There are some signs that Bloor has recognised this lattermost problem. In remarkable coincidence with Heidegger’s comments on production, Bloor observes that the idea of construction has connotations of ‘building and making’: ‘What is built, must be built from something: construction needs materials. Despite the claims of critics, the very term precludes the idea that “everything is constructed.”’57 Moreover, in discussing Kuhn’s account of scientific discovery, Bloor writes: ‘The scientist must come to realise that something is the case, and what is the case. There must be some generalised awareness of novelty and also a conceptualisation of the novelty.’58 At first, the scientist only encounters nature as pure extantness, as an indeterminately existing thing, and hence as something which escapes conceptualisation. According to Bloor’s theory of reference, when a thing cannot be conceptualised, it cannot be an object of reference or intention. The scientist’s encounter thus cannot be characterised as an epistemic one, as an act of knowing or believing, but only as a ‘generalised awareness’ of the thing’s brute existence. Only by thematising the thing, only by interpreting its brute existence in the context of a world of pre-structured anticipations, can the scientist make sense of that thing, and only then can she begin to form concepts about the thing’s essence, about what it is. Here, then, Bloor seems poised to limit the application of his theory of reference, and hence also his commitment to the subject-object distinction, so as to accommodate the phenomenological observation that we are able to experience nature in its brute state of indeterminate and undifferentiated existence. In other words, Bloor seems ready to accept the basic independence thesis of minimal realism.

Yet, Bloor then appears to lose his nerve. He writes that ‘[t]he pure “empiricist” encounter with the world corresponds roughly to the that.’59 By modelling experience of nature in orthodox empiricist terms, Bloor appears to slip back into the problematic embrace of the subject-object distinction. As a consequence, he conflates a generalised awareness of nature in its brute existence for a conceptualisation of it in terms of an external world. He suggests that

[t]he typical empiricist interrogation of a knowledge claim (to find out exactly what the claimants saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched) can be thought of as providing the raw materials out of which concepts are constructed. Notice that what is at issue here are sensory processes, that is, psychological and physiological causes of belief. […] The causal story begins with observations not observation reports.60

Bloor assimilates the ‘raw materials’ of experience to objects of observation because he takes for granted the idea that the human being is a substance-subject which gains epistemic access to an external reality through ‘sensory processes.’ On this model, the subject is treated as an object distinguishable from other objects by its possession of a special power of perception. Observation, then, is meant to pierce the glass bulb separating the subject from the external world. The sceptic, of course, could not be happier with this particular arrangement.

The obstacle blocking SSK practitioners’ unambiguous endorsement of the basic independence thesis is their tacit adherence to the glass-bulb model. Their reason for securing this schema at the centre of their social theory of knowledge is an admirable one: they wish to reconcile social constructivism with realism by holding fast the distinction between nature, on the one hand, and descriptions of nature, on the other. Unfortunately, they believe that this task entails a commitment to the fundamentality of the subject-object distinction. But such a commitment is unnecessary for, and indeed contrary to, their ultimate goal. As I hope to have shown thus far, once a distinction has been made between nature and world, the subject-object distinction can be set aside while still preserving the distinction between nature and its description. In other words, the basic independence thesis can be maintained without recourse to the orthodox subject-object schema. By accepting this thesis, and by thus trading in their residual realism for a minimal realism rooted in existential phenomenology, SSK practitioners would preserve their coveted distinction between nature and its description, and hence also be able to more effectively assert their credentials as both realists and social constructivists.

One implication of the present argument is that Heidegger’s own early philosophy is compatible with the social constructivism favoured by SSK practitioners. This is a suggestion I am happy to accept. However, as we will see in the next section, the philosopher Joseph Rouse has presented a different interpretation of Heidegger, to the effect that the latter’s early philosophy instead motivates a social constructivism in which no place at all can be found for a realist position, not even a minimal one. This presents a powerful challenge to the interpretation being elaborated here, and so we must give it careful consideration.

5. Rouse on Heidegger and Realism

Joseph Rouse is arguably the most prominent figure in science studies to have made positive use of Heidegger’s early philosophy of science. In his 1987 book, Knowledge and Power, where he laid out the basic architecture of his reading of Heidegger, Rouse combines Heidegger’s hermeneutics — the study of thinking as interpretation — with his phenomenology of practice in order to craft what Rouse calls a ‘practical hermeneutics of science.’61 This practical hermeneutics treats science as a collection of interrelated interpretative practices, rather than as an abstract system of concepts and theories. These interpretative practices are exemplified by material activities in the scientific laboratory. Rouse thus accepts Heidegger’s existential conception of science, and attempts to further elaborate it by exploring the constitutive role played by material practice in relation to concrete modes of scientific existence.

Rouse argues that Heidegger’s hermeneutics was motivated by the question of ‘how it is that anything shows up at all.’ According to him, Heidegger answered this question with the argument that the subjects for whom things ‘show up’ must have certain characteristics, the foremost among them being their membership in a ‘self-adjudicating community.’62 Members of a self-adjudicating community recognise one another on the basis of their shared ways of responding to a common environment. Rouse thus argues that Heidegger’s word for the subject, Dasein, denotes the communal state of being ‘socially and behaviorally self-adjudicating interpreters.’63 In other words, the subjectivity of the subject is enmeshed in the intersubjective realm of a community of subjects. Heidegger calls this the subject’s ‘being-with,’ and he argues that, like being-in-the-world, it is a fundamental aspect of the subjectivity of the subject.64 On this construal of Heidegger, Rouse concludes that, if anything is to ‘show up at all,’ then it must show up for a self-adjudicating interpretive community. Furthermore, because this community is defined in terms of practical, as opposed to theoretical, acts of interpretation, it is on the basis of practical rather than theoretical interpretive acts that things ‘show up.’ Rouse locates these practical acts in the material practices of the sciences, with particular emphasis on laboratory practices. For him, the laboratory is the principal site where things ‘show up’ in the sciences.

There is, however, a tension in Rouse’s reading of Heidegger, a tension which does not exist in Heidegger’s own work. On the one hand, Rouse is concerned with the conditions which make it possible for a thing to ‘show up at all.’ On the other hand, he describes those conditions as interpretive conditions, that is, as the social and behavioural conditions which enable a community to successfully interpret a thing. The tension is this. The conditions enabling something to ‘show up at all’ would seem to be existence conditions, that is, the conditions which enable a thing to exist at all. This is indeed how Rouse often presents them. Yet, conditions of existence are not the same as conditions of interpretation, for it seems clear that a thing must exist before it can be interpreted. Interpretation thus presupposes existence. Hence, to run existence and interpretation together, as Rouse does, is to court conceptual incoherence.

Rouse attempts to resolve this conflict, and so to escape the threat of incoherence, by assimilating existence to meaning. He writes that ‘there is no fact of the matter about whether things that cannot intelligibly be encountered within a meaningful world exist or do not exist.’65 And he endorses the ‘invocation of meaning as the arbiter of […] existence conditions for things.’66 On this view, existence presupposes meaning. Hence, Rouse reverses the apparently common-sense claim that interpretation presupposes existence. For him, interpretation does not presuppose existence, it presupposes meaning. And meaning is, in his view, the condition of possibility for existence.

This position may allow Rouse to dodge the charge of incoherence, but at what cost? The claim that meaning precedes existence would seem to contradict common sense. Moreover, by making existence dependent on interpretation, Rouse effectively abandons the core realist doctrine of independent existence. Existence now means existence relative to an interpretive community. It must also be noted that Rouse’s position fails to reflect Heidegger’s own view of these matters. Indeed, as this chapter has already demonstrated, Heidegger offers a different way of resolving the conflict. Contrary to what Rouse claims, Heidegger’s hermeneutics of the subject is not driven by the question of how things show up at all, but rather by the question of how things show up as what they are. A key aspect of Heidegger’s position, overlooked by Rouse, is his distinction between the that-being and what-being of a thing, that is, between its existence and its essence. Rouse is partly right that, for Heidegger, the being of a thing depends on its being meaningful, because Heidegger does argue that the what-being, or essence, of a thing depends on its being either practically or theoretically interpreted by a self-adjudicating community. But the that-being of the thing does not depend on its being so interpreted. A thing may exist without meaning anything at all, without being intelligible for a community.

Although Rouse shows no awareness of Heidegger’s distinction between existence and essence, he does recognise that Heidegger’s work includes elements which resist the use to which Rouse would like to put it. Principal among these is Heidegger’s concept of ‘change-over,’ which, as discussed earlier in this chapter, describes the transformation in understanding of a thing from its being ready-to-hand to its being present-at-hand within-the-world. According to Rouse, the concept of change-over marks Heidegger’s vestigial attachment to a theory-dominant account of the scientific enterprise. He thus rejects it as a retrograde move betraying Heidegger’s otherwise laudable commitment to a practical hermeneutics of science which gives pride of place to material practice.67 Indeed, according to Rouse, ‘the theory-dominant perspective that Heidegger still retains […] reduces experiment to a merely incidental practice in science.’68 Even though Heidegger, as we saw above, offers some examples of the material practice of science, Rouse dismisses these as ‘research practices that are only associated with theoretical cognition’ rather than being constitutive of it.69 He thus concludes that, on Heidegger’s allegedly retrograde account, material practice ‘neither has “a life of its own” apart from theory nor makes a distinctive cognitive contribution.’70

Rouse views this alleged circumstance not only as an affront to his practical hermeneutics of science, he also asserts that the phenomenological concept of the change-over, which is meant to provide existential grounds for Heidegger’s account of scientific theory, is unpersuasive. He has repeated this assertion several times over many years: ‘Heidegger never does indicate what makes for this sudden leap to a new way of looking at things’; ‘Heidegger is disturbingly vague about how this changeover can occur’; ‘Heidegger does not describe how the practical tasks of science (experiment, instrumental manipulation, theoretical problem solving and calculation) are connected to the disclosure of things as present-at-hand’; ‘Heidegger merely asserted such a changeover without an adequate phenomenological description of how it occurred’; ‘Heidegger merely asserted such a changeover without adequately describing it.’71 The problem with this repeated assertion is that Rouse has never developed it into a proper argument explaining why Heidegger’s in fact not insignificant description of the change-over fails to meet Rouse’s own standards of adequacy.72 In fact, it turns out that Rouse’s standards are ill-suited for measuring the adequacy of Heidegger’s description, because they are based on a misunderstanding of what role the concept of the change-over is meant to fulfill.

Rouse writes that ‘it is not at all clear in [Heidegger’s] account how one can get from a breakdown of practical involvement to the theoretical attitude. But once this happens, the ordinary functional contextuality of things gets replaced by the “mathematical projection of Nature.”’73 The standard of adequacy which Heidegger fails to meet thus demands an explanation of how a breakdown in our immersed involvement with a ready-to-hand nature can change over to a mathematical projection of a present-at-hand nature, a ‘decontextualised theorising’ which allegedly eliminates the ontological significance of material practice in the sciences. According to Rouse, Heidegger identifies the mathematical projection of nature with a decontextualised theorising and claims that ‘[w]hen we understand theorizing, we have understood what is essential about science.’74 Rouse’s Heidegger thus defines science as a theory-driven mathematical projection of nature in which thing show up as fully decontextualised and present-at-hand.

In his reading of Heidegger, Rouse appears to take for granted a fundamental distinction between theory and practice, an assumption he shares with more orthodox philosophers of science. However, whereas these philosophers usually seek to reduce the epistemic significance of practice to that of theory, Rouse argues for the reverse: he wants to reduce theory to practice. Furthermore, because he detects a resistance to his preferred direction of reduction in Heidegger’s work, Rouse assumes that Heidegger must then belong to the orthodox camp, that he must be intent on reducing practice to theory. But there is an alternative possibility: namely, that Heidegger does not accept the distinction between theory and practice as a fundamental one. That Rouse has foisted a foreign distinction onto Heidegger is evinced by his elision of Heidegger’s concept of the mathematical projection of nature with a theoretical stance towards nature. Because Heidegger seeks to explain science in terms of the mathematical projection, Rouse concludes that he must also be seeking to explain science reductively in terms of theory.

But Heidegger does not hold the distinction between theory and practice to be a fundamental one, and he does not identify the mathematical projection of nature with theory. In fact, as already discussed, Heidegger argues that the mathematical projection provides the existential condition of possibility for both scientific theory and practice. The distinction between the two is therefore not fundamental, but instead derives from their shared existential basis in the mathematical projection of nature. They are, so to speak, two sides of the same existential coin.75

Rouse’s misunderstanding on this point appears to have arisen from his failure to recognise Heidegger’s distinction between the existence and essence of a thing, and, more specifically, between a thing present-at-hand without-the-world and a thing present-at-hand within-the-world. This is the distinction between a thing which exists, but is not intelligible, and a thing which exists and is also intelligible. Hence, when Heidegger writes that, in the mathematical projection, ‘something constantly present-at-hand (matter) is uncovered beforehand,’ he means something present-at-hand in the first sense. When brute matter is uncovered in this projection, our basic understanding is directed towards ‘those constitutive items in it which are quantitatively determinable (motion, force, location, and time).’ The mathematical projection thus serves as a basic template which directs us to experience an independently existing nature as something essentially amenable to quantitative analysis. Heidegger writes that ‘[o]nly “in the light” of a Nature which has been projected in this fashion can anything like a “fact” be found and set up for an experiment regulated and delimited in terms of this projection.’76 Hence, the mathematical projection is a condition of possibility for the scientific experiment as such. The readiness-to-hand of things in experimental practice presupposes the essential measurability of physical phenomena. Moreover, when there is a change-over in understanding, and those same ready-to-hand things become thematised as present-at-hand objects within an experimental work-world, their essential determination as measurable does not change, but rather becomes articulated as the subject matter for theoretical representation. Hence, the mathematical projection is likewise a condition of possibility for theory as such.

The change-over thus marks a shift in experience within the range of possible understandings of nature opened up by the mathematical projection. The thing with which we were working now becomes a thing about which we concern ourselves. It shifts from being a resource for our activity to being the topic of our activity. This is, as we have seen, a process of objectification. Heidegger writes that the ‘Being which Objectifies and which is alongside the present-at-hand within-the-world, is characterized by a distinctive kind of making-present.’77 With this, Heidegger makes it clear that, whereas the mathematical projection correlates with independently existing nature — present-at-hand without-the-world — the objectifying, or thematising, process enabled by that projection, and which itself enables theory, correlates with things present-at-hand within-the-world. It is this crucial distinction which Rouse has failed to recognise. He mistakenly identifies the mathematical projection of nature with the scientific theorising which it enables, because he has not spotted the distinction Heidegger draws between a thing present-at-hand without-the-world and a thing present-at-hand within-the-world. He thus identifies the former with the latter, and thereby eliminates the conceptual space Heidegger had deliberately left open in his existential account of science for an independently existing nature.

As we have seen, Rouse assimilates existence to meaning in order to avoid the threat of incoherence facing his practical hermeneutics of science. He argues that interpretation is constitutive of existence, and thus rejects the common-sense belief that interpretation presupposes the existence of the thing interpreted. Giving up this common-sense belief is the price Rouse pays to protect his hermeneutics of scientific practice. Yet, as we have also seen, Heidegger allows for an alternative to Rouse’s practical hermeneutics which does not sacrifice this belief, and which thus preserves the core realist doctrine of independent existence. But there is also a further reason to prefer Heidegger’s account. It seems that Rouse’s commitment to an abstract theory of universal hermeneutics has led him to ignore the concrete evidence which plays against that same theory. Indeed, this evidence can be found even in Rouse’s own practice. His theoretical commitments conflict with the basic norms of intelligibility governing the very language he uses to articulate his theory. Avoided in theory, the threat of incoherence nevertheless re-emerges in practice.

Rouse’s theoretical conviction that existence presupposes interpretation is clearly expressed in the following statement: ‘what exists depends on the field of meaningful interaction and interpretation within which things can be encountered.’78 Here, Rouse argues that interpretation is the condition of possibility for existence. A thing can only exist — can only ‘show up at all’ — within a field of meaning and interpretive practice. The relation of a thing to an interpretative practice is thus one of existential dependency. Yet Rouse immediately betrays this theoretical conviction in another statement, which only makes interpretation the condition of a thing’s being present in a particular way: ‘the possible ways a thing can be depends on the configuration of practices within which they become manifest.’79 Now the configuration of practices, which are for Rouse constitutive of meaning, is no longer the condition of possibility for a thing’s existence, as such, but instead for the range of possible ways in which it may show up as what it is. Rouse’s emphasis has subtly shifted from identifying meaning with the that-being of a thing to identifying it with the what-being of that thing. The question being answered is no longer one of how things show up at all, but instead of how things show up as the bearers of the properties which manifest their essence, their way of being. This question is the same one as asked by Heidegger, and it can be answered without assimilating existence to meaning, and hence without threatening the doctrine of independent existence. This, I would suggest, is a more common-sense way of speaking about the relation between meaning and existence. Indeed, it is a way of speaking about that relation which natural language powerfully compels us to adopt, and so it is not surprising that Rouse quietly slides back into it.

Rouse nevertheless insists on tacking close to his theoretical commitments with the further claim that

[b]elonging to the realm of possible determinations open within our practices is constitutive of a thing’s being a thing at all. But this claim is just to say that having determinate properties, and interacting with other things in ways we must take account of, is a necessary condition for a thing to be.80

Rouse admits that ‘[t]his point is difficult to recognise,’ but suggests that it can be made clear with an example of a case where ‘thinghood’ is in question.81 He offers an example from the history of laboratory practice in biochemistry.

The case involves what biochemists eventually came to recognise as thyrotropin releasing hormone, or TRH.82 Rouse writes that the name ‘TRH’ was originally used to designate ‘whatever was physiologically active […] in certain chromatographically isolated fractions of the hypothalami of sheep or pigs.’ He notes that, at that early stage, biochemists did not know if TRH denoted ‘a thing rather than an unstable artifact.’ According to Rouse, the difference between an unstable artefact and a thing is that a chemical structure can be attributed to the latter. Once biochemists succeeded in attributing a chemical structure to what Rouse also refers to as ‘the stuff in the fractions,’ that stuff was no longer an unstable artefact but manifest itself as a genuine ‘substance.’ Hence, Rouse distinguishes between an ‘unstable artifact’ and ‘stuff,’ on the one hand, and a ‘thing’ and a ‘substance’ on the other, arguing that only the latter can be properly recognised as candidates for existence. What he refers to as ‘the complex of practices that had developed over a hundred years of biochemistry’ comprises the existence conditions for the thing called TRH. For Rouse, the ‘crucial point’ is this: ‘not to show up in the ways that allow something to count as an x (in this case, as a chemical substance) is not to be a thing at all.’ Yet it then becomes something of a puzzle what the terms ‘unstable artifact’ and ‘stuff’ are meant to refer to if not to something which exists. It would seem more coherent to say that the terms refer to a thing about which we can say that it is but not what it is, because what it is has not yet been determined by the biochemists treating it as the subject matter for their investigation. It is thus not the existence of the thing which is in question, but its determinate properties. Contrary to what Rouse claims, the determination of those properties is not constitutive of that thing’s being a thing at all, but rather of its being an object, a property-bearing substance, a thing present-at-hand within-the-world.

In this case, then, Heidegger’s distinction between existence and essence provides a better resource for explaining what transpired than does Rouse’s theoretical commitment to unfolding configurations of interpretive practice. On top of that, Heidegger’s more moderate position also allows us to comfortably accommodate the core realist doctrine of independent existence. The threat posed to minimal realism by Rouse’s practical hermeneutics of science has thus been defused. A practical hermeneutics of science will reveal its full worth only within the constraints of a phenomenology of scientific practice which recognises the independent existence of nature.

6. Minimal Realism and Scientific Practice

Rouse’s critique of Heidegger’s existential account of science attempts to separate the social constructivist elements in Heidegger’s hermeneutics of subjectivity from the phenomenological elements supporting his minimal realism. Rouse adopted Heidegger’s description of the subject in terms of ‘socially and behaviorally self-adjudicating interpreters’ — what Heidegger called the subject’s elemental being-with-others — but failed to follow him in also accepting the doctrine of independent existence. This position was based on the reading of Heidegger which Rouse presented in his 1987 book, Knowledge and Power. Since the appearance of that book, however, Rouse has distanced himself not only from realism, but also from social constructivism, and especially from SSK. Indeed, he has more recently argued that ‘[s]ocial constructivism and realism are […] vampires, the philosophical undead that still haunt our concepts and interpretations of nature, culture, and science.’83 This chapter has already detected minimal life-signs in realism, enough to still count it among the living. In what follows, I will likewise argue that Rouse’s report of the death of SSK is also greatly exaggerated.

Rouse’s criticism of the social constructivist view of science is strikingly similar to his criticism of Heidegger’s existential account of science. As he did with Heidegger, Rouse also charges SSK practitioners with espousing a theory-dominated view of science. From Rouse’s perspective, then, SSK poses a threat to his practice-based philosophy of science. As we will see, SSK does indeed pose such a threat, not because it is theory-dominated (it need not be), but because it insists that scientific practices can be usefully studied in sociological terms.

A key entry point for Rouse in his critique of SSK is Richard Rorty’s claim that ‘[n]atural science [is not] a natural kind.’84 According to Rouse, natural science is not a natural kind because the products and norms of scientific investigation are historically variant, and also vary both across and within scientific disciplines. In other words, Rouse rejects the claim that there is ‘an essence of science or a single essential aim to which all genuinely scientific work must aspire.’85 The specific problem with SSK, he writes, is its insensitivity to the heterogeneity of the sciences. SSK practitioners act on the ‘mistaken assumption […] that scientific knowledge belongs to a single kind similar or distinguishable in kind in any interesting way from other kinds.’86

Rorty’s argument that natural science is not a natural kind was meant to undercut essentialist solutions to the demarcation problem, that is, the problem of distinguishing genuine science from pseudoscience, astronomy from astrology, for example. The argument thus carries no weight against SSK, which holds that knowledge, as such, is a social and historical phenomenon and so any criterion demarcating scientific from other kinds of knowledge must itself be socially and historically contingent rather than essential. Indeed, Barnes, Bloor, and Henry write that ‘demarcation criteria must be regarded as conventional, and their application in all cases as situated human action,’ and they explicitly treat the pseudoscientific status of astrology from this non-essentialist perspective.87 Rouse’s complaint seems to lie with the fact, not that SSK practitioners treat science as an essentially unique epistemic kind, but that they treat it as a kind at all. What Rouse disapproves of is SSK’s claim that science is an epistemic kind which, like all other epistemic kinds, is amenable to sociological explanation: ‘the vocabulary of social interaction (interests, negotiations, and so on) is supposed to hold the key to an adequate understanding of scientific work.’88 Rouse thus joins other critics in attributing to SSK the doctrine that sociology ‘can (potentially) account fully for the epistemic outcomes of scientific practices.’89 And, along with those other critics, Rouse’s attribution turns out, in crucial cases, to be a misattribution. For example, Rouse has David Bloor claiming, first, that the same kinds of causal explanation should be applied symmetrically to both true and false beliefs, and, second, that ‘only sociological explanations could plausibly satisfy this demand.’90 The first attribution is correct, and the second incorrect. The ‘kinds’ of causal explanation to be symmetrically applied may include sociological, psychological, biological, ecological, or any other naturalistic sort. As Bloor states in the locus classicus of his position, ‘[n]aturally there will be other types of causes apart from social ones which will cooperate in bringing about belief.’91 The importance of sociological explanations attaches specifically to the normative conditions concerning belief formation, an issue central for understanding knowledge but certainly not the only such issue. Contrary to what Rouse alleges, then, social constructivists do not all claim that sociological explanation can account ‘fully’ for the epistemic outcomes of scientific practice. Some, like Bloor, argue only that a complete explanatory account of science must include sociological elements. Such elements are necessary, but not sufficient, for an explanation of science.

An initially more plausible criticism is Rouse’s claim that SSK practitioners treat science as a ‘theoretically coherent domain,’ and ‘mistakenly take the unity and theoretical integrity of “scientific knowledge” for granted.’92 This is the charge, mentioned above, that SSK practitioners deploy a theory-dominant view of science. It may well be that this criticism applies to some social constructivists. As before, I will here concentrate on crucial exceptions among proponents of SSK.

Barry Barnes has written that a ‘theory is a cluster of accepted concrete applications.’93 This looks like a definition of theory in terms of practice. The concrete applications Barnes refers to are ‘problem solutions’: ‘particular concrete scientific achievement[s].’94 Barnes, appropriating Kuhn, also calls them ‘paradigms,’ and writes that the ‘most satisfactory way of describing scientific knowledge is simply as a repertoire of paradigms.’ He furthermore argues that ‘[t]o speak instead of an abstract pattern of concepts and beliefs, or statements, can be seriously misleading.’95 Nevertheless, Barnes goes on to do just that, albeit with clear qualification. He writes:

It is always possible to reify the verbal component of a culture as a conceptual fabric, a structure made up of generalisations which connect concepts into a single integrated whole. It is true that something is lost by reducing linguistic activity to an abstract verbal pattern in this way. But the reification is irresistibly convenient, and harmless enough if its limitations are constantly borne in mind.96

It would be tedious to trawl through the works of Barnes and his SSK colleagues with the goal of judging whether they have ‘constantly borne in mind’ the limitations of this methodologically motivated reification. Suffice it to say here that Barnes’s comments cast serious doubt on Rouse’s blanket allegation that SSK practitioners uncritically view scientific knowledge as an integrated theoretical whole. Yet, those comments also suggest an explanation for how critics may come to think otherwise. Just because a writer has constantly borne in mind the limitations of their method, it need not follow that their readers are also constantly aware of, and hence manage to avoid, the incumbent dangers associated with the writer’s own use of that method.

The problem is particularly acute in the case of Rouse’s interpretation of Harry Collins, who, as we saw in Chapter One, rejects a role for external-world realism in SSK. Using a passage from Collins and Steven Yearley, Rouse tries to undermine the credibility of social constructivists by arguing that they reify, not just the practices of the natural sciences, but also the very sociological concepts they themselves use to explain the natural sciences. The passage in question reads: ‘We provide a prescription: stand on social things — be social realists — in order to explain natural things. The world is an agonistic field (to borrow a phrase from Latour); others will be standing on natural things to explain social things.’97 For Rouse, by distinguishing between ‘social things’ and ‘natural things,’ and then setting the two in opposition, Collins and Yearley erroneously ‘presume the unity of each’ when those unities, as well as their opposition, should better have been the subject of critical deconstruction.98 He furthermore characterises the passage as ‘presum[ing] that the social “world” and the natural “world” constitute relatively autonomous domains whose articulated descriptions then need to be brought into an appropriate relation to one another.’99 As a consequence of this interpretation, we are now suddenly confronted with a version of the traditional epistemological problem, encountered in Chapter One, of how the world of the knower or knowers — the world of the subject — makes contact with the world of the knowable — the world of the object. Indeed, Rouse suggests that SSK practitioners harbour a ‘vestigial commitment to epistemology.’100

Rouse is making two good points here, but if they are to be properly appreciated they must be separated from the misleading aspects of his argument. To that end, it is important to understand the broader context from out of which Rouse has plucked the above passage from Collins and Yearley. The two sentences immediately preceding it state: ‘Our world is populated, we admit it, by philosophically insecure objects, such as states of society and participant’s comprehension. But all worlds are built on shifting sands.’ The third sentence following the passage states: ‘We see the attractiveness of the idea of a comprehensive theory, but in its absence, life, although imperfect, is interesting.’101 On this basis, Collins and Yearley can hardly be charged with an uncritical reification of the world into distinct and autonomous social and natural domains. Their appeal to the concept of ‘social reality’ is, as they clearly state in the passage quoted by Rouse, a ‘prescription,’ and they furthermore emphasise that this is an ‘insecure’ methodological recommendation made in full consciousness of the ‘shifting sands’ on which it rests. In further contrast to Rouse’s claims about SSK, Collins and Yearley also clearly disavow the idea of a comprehensive theory, choosing instead to proceed imperfectly over shifting sands in a world which they nevertheless take to be of unceasing interest. This choice resonates with Barnes’s own admission that the reification of concrete practices as an abstract conceptual fabric is irresistibly convenient from a methodological perspective, and harmless enough if its limitations are constantly borne in mind. Collins and Yearley explicitly acknowledge those limitations, and Rouse is wrong to suggest otherwise.102

On the other hand, Rouse is right to find some reason for worry here. With this we come to the first of his two good points. Rouse worries that SSK practitioners, by using particular social categories as resources in their explanations of science, will forego the opportunity to topicalise the contingencies of those resources. Within those contingencies, he fears, there may lie unresolved political tensions. There is no doubt that this is a genuine worry, and that the potential problems it responds to can be very great. There is, however, also no doubt that Barnes can be easily read as expressing this worry when he warns us of the limitations which accompany reification. There is also no doubt that the same worry may be fairly read into Collins and Yearley’s observation that states of society and participant’s comprehension are philosophically insecure. There thus appears to be little genuine disagreement between Rouse and SSK on this point. Accordingly, SSK practitioners should not object to having their explanatory resources topicalised and the social and historical contingencies of those resources exposed. They may sometimes find themselves surprised or even embarrassed in the process, but they will recognise such outcomes as consistent with their own methodology and so should accept them as contributions to the greater good. However, SSK practitioners may well object to being told by critics that they must perform this act directly on themselves if they wish to maintain the credibility of their field. For they will rightly suspect that this demand, when pushed too far, surreptitiously threatens the very possibility of their practice. As Bloor has observed: ‘Nobody can turn every resource into a topic without finishing up with topics which they have no resources for tackling.’103 If all the explanatory resources of SSK must be turned into topics before the critic will be satisfied, then clearly the critic’s satisfaction depends on sociological explanation finally becoming impossible. It is hard to believe that Rouse would seriously want to place such a strong demand on SSK practitioners, not least because the same demand could easily be turned against his own attempt to explain science in terms of ‘practice,’ ‘meaning,’ and ‘being,’ categories the legitimacy of which he apparently takes for granted. For example, as we saw in the last section, Rouse neglects the distinction between essence and existence, which was prompted by Heidegger’s ‘question of being,’ and so he mistakenly takes the assimilation of essence to meaning to also encompass existence. The point is thus a perfectly general one, applying to any explanatory enterprise, including Rouse’s own practical hermeneutics.104

Let us turn now to Rouse’s second good point. He argues that SSK practitioners still harbour a vestigial commitment to epistemology, and especially to an underlying presupposition that the problem of knowledge is one of explaining how a subject may acquire knowledge of an independently existing external object. I naturally recognise this point as a good one, since I introduced it myself in Chapter One. I represented the problem with the glass-bulb model. Unlike Rouse, however, I view this problem as an opportunity, not to banish SSK practitioners into the wasteland of the philosophical undead, but to invite them into the verdant valley of existential phenomenology.

I have argued that the intelligibility of external-world scepticism depends on a prior, often tacit, acceptance of the glass-bulb model. To recognise external-world scepticism as a genuine epistemological problem, in need of some kind of solution, is to have already adopted an ontological image of the subject as a discrete and worldless substance-subject. I furthermore argued that SSK practitioners, despite their sometimes vigorous disagreements over how best to address this problem, are agreed with respect to the existence and intelligibility of the problem. This is because they all subscribe, to some significant degree or other, to the glass-bulb model which fuels that problem. I proposed not a solution, but a dissolution of this problem through the replacement of the glass-bulb model with Heidegger’s existential concept of the subjectivity of the subject as being-in-the-world. Because being-in-the-world belongs to the basic existential structure of the subject, we never need to face the problem of how it gains epistemic access to that world. In my view, adopting Heidegger’s concept adds philosophical strength to SSK, without significantly compromising its methodology or its goals. Indeed, as I have now argued in this chapter, the proposed combination is even compatible with the minimalist realism of many SSK practitioners because Heidegger, too, accepted the core realist doctrine of independent existence. This combination can succeed, in good part, because these social constructivists are able to accept, with dignity, Heidegger’s claim that human existence is phenomenologically grounded in our immersed involvement with and alongside other entities in the world. Rouse is blind to the possibility of this combination, because he misattributes a theory-dominated account of science to both Heidegger and SSK. In this and the previous section, I have traced the errors in Rouse’s interpretations, and hence shown that his criticisms against both parties do not succeed. The road thus remains clear for my proposed combination of SSK and Heidegger’s existential conception of science. Furthermore, I have argued that this proposal, in contrast to Rouse’s practical hermeneutics of science, can readily accommodate the core realist doctrine of independent existence. The proposed account provides the basis, in other words, for a minimally realist social constructivism about science.

7. Conclusion

I ended the introductory section of this chapter by noting Ginev’s criticism of Rouse for not having paid adequate attention to the existential basis, and especially the cognitive specificity, of science. Ginev’s criticism was inspired by Heidegger’s existential conception of science. We have now seen that the core of this conception is the mathematical projection of nature, a term Heidegger used to denote the existential conditions which make science possible in both its practical and theoretical modalities. As a consequence of this projection, an independently existing nature comes to be understood a priori as something receptive to quantitative analysis. Given that the mathematical projection lies at the core of Heidegger’s existential conception of science, it is ironic that Ginev follows Rouse in treating it as evidence for Heidegger’s alleged dependency on a theory-dominant view of science. Indeed, Ginev even charges Heidegger with ‘mathematical essentialism,’ having apparently missed the point that Heidegger displaces the phenomenological priority of mathematical essence by explaining it in terms of the existential conditions which make it possible.105 Heidegger’s position might thus be better described as one of ‘mathematical existentialism.’

As we have seen, Rouse, too, criticises essentialist accounts of science, drawing on Rorty’s claim that ‘natural science is not a natural kind’ to do so. Rorty’s concern was to block attempts to demarcate science from pseudoscience — astronomy from astrology, for example — by attributing to science an absolute and unique essence. I have argued that this criticism fails when set against SSK practitioners, because they too reject the idea that science has an absolute essence. That is why they call themselves social constructivists. Rouse tries, however, to further press the case by criticising SSK for treating science as a ‘kind’ fully amenable to sociological explanation. I have shown that this argument is also not successful. SSK practitioners only argue that sociological categories are necessary, not that they are sufficient, for a complete explanatory account of science. In order to be sufficient, such an account may also have to include psychological, biological, and physical categories, and it should also include a place for an independently existing nature. SSK practitioners are thus realists in this minimal sense.

Rouse’s argument is also unsuccessful against Heidegger. He alleges that Heidegger propounded an essentialist account of science in terms of theory: the genesis of scientific objects can be fully explained by reference to a mathematically structured conceptual scheme. This argument fails, first, because Heidegger did not view science primarily as a conceptual scheme but instead as a form of existence, and, second, because Heidegger did not claim to fully explain the genesis of scientific objects by reference to scientific modes of existence. Similar to SSK practitioners, Heidegger argued that these modes are responsible only for the essence of objects, not for their existence. Hence, Heidegger is also a realist in this minimal sense. Rouse misses this crucial moment in Heidegger’s account of science, because he neglects Heidegger’s distinction between the what-being and that-being, the essence and existence, of a thing.

As already mentioned, Ginev also criticises Rouse’s effacement of the cognitive specificity of science, that is, his tendency to uncritically assimilate science to the broader sphere of cultural life in which it is necessarily embedded. This is the flip-side of the demarcation problem. Ginev’s worry is not that non-scientific practices will penetrate the cognitive boundaries of scientific culture, thereby corrupting that culture. His worry is rather that science will permeate out into the broader culture, with the result that social life in general will become ‘totally instrumentalized.’106 According to Ginev, this threat follows from Rouse’s mistaken assumption that anti-essentialism about science entails the rejection of its cognitive specificity. Yet, as Ginev points out, one may distinguish between scientific and non-scientific cultures, without recourse to essentialism, by recognising the existential specificity of scientific practice. The two spheres of culture are thus to be distinguished in existentialist rather than essentialist terms.107 This move mirrors Heidegger’s own displacement of an essentialist account with an existentialist account of science. It also mirrors Heidegger’s identification, in some of his later work, of modern science with instrumental rationality. It is not clear, however, that this is an entirely apt characterisation of modern scientific practice. In any case, it remains, for present purposes, to consider how an account of the existential specificity of science may play against the distinction Rouse attempts to draw between SSK, on the one hand, and what he calls ‘cultural studies of scientific knowledge,’ on the other.108

Rouse includes feminist science studies within the realm of cultural studies of scientific knowledge, and this will be our focus here. In comparing feminist science studies with SSK, Rouse notes many important similarities between them, as well as some differences of both a technical and a fundamental nature. The main technical difference is that SSK practitioners have largely neglected issues of gender in their empirical and methodological work. This is true, and unfortunate. Yet, as Rouse argues, this neglect may only reflect an incomplete application of SSK’s methods. In principle, that method may ‘leave ample room for a full appreciation of the significance of gender relations as a social explanans for the content of scientific knowledge.’109 Hence, Rouse moves to bracket this difference, turning his attention instead to what he considers the key fundamental difference between the two fields.

That difference hinges on Rouse’s claim that SSK practitioners propound an ‘epistemological’ account of scientific knowledge. To view science in this way means to treat it as a definite ‘kind,’ or object of study, which may be surveyed as a ‘totality,’ for example, as a coherent and determinate system of representations, a conceptual scheme.110 Hence, in distinguishing feminist science studies from SSK, Rouse writes that ‘feminist scholars conceive of “knowing” as concretely situated, and as more interactive than representational. Knowledge is not merely a propositional attitude (belief or acceptance) toward some ideal or abstracted propositional content, but a relationship between knower and known.’111 The nub of Rouse’s argument, then, is his accusation that SSK trades on a reified picture of science which abstracts it from the concrete level of situated interaction favoured by feminist science studies. As I have argued in this chapter, this accusation flies wide of the mark. SSK practitioners may deliberately reify scientific practice in the interests of convenience, but their core methodological commitment is to a picture of science as a heterogeneous and shifting field of interaction which is nevertheless amenable to sociological analysis. Rouse’s attempt to drive a substantive methodological wedge between feminist science studies and SSK is thus not successful. This is not to say that there do not remain important differences of orientation between these two fields, but these differences are of a technical rather than a fundamental nature. There is no reason, in principle, why the two fields cannot enter into greater cooperation with one another.

Indeed, Rouse’s analysis even suggests, perhaps unwittingly, that feminist science studies, like SSK, is methodologically predisposed towards the minimal realist position I have commended in this chapter. He writes that ‘[f]eminist science studies have […] often been explicitly concerned with different ways in which knowers might interact with objects of knowledge.’112 Although Rouse means to distinguish feminist science studies from SSK with this observation, he could, in fact, have just as well made it of SSK. As we will see in Chapter Three, it is with explaining the difference between distinct ways of understanding a commonly encountered nature that SSK practitioners have often concerned themselves. Moreover, in a passage cited earlier in this chapter, Bloor writes that ‘nature, in our ordinary way of thinking, is the object of knowledge, the thing that is known, while science is the knowledge we have of it, our theories about it and our description of it.’113 I have already critiqued Bloor’s phrase ‘object of knowledge,’ and those remarks could also be applied to the phrase ‘objects of knowledge’ in the passage from Rouse. More to the point is that, in both passages, science is presented as an activity distinct from, but directed towards, an independently existing nature. When epistemic groups disagree in their theoretical and practical attitudes towards nature, when they interact with nature in different ways, we can make sense of this disagreement, in part, by looking to the existential differences present between their distinct orientations towards nature. Such existential differences may be located within the cultures of science, but they may also mark a distinction between scientific and non-scientific cultural orientations towards nature. As Ginev reminds us, all science may be cultural, but not all culture is scientific. There would, of course, also be other ways of understanding such differences, ways which seek to prohibit all reference to an independently existing nature. As Rouse’s own example illustrates, however, this kind of prohibition, while possible in theory, is difficult to maintain in practice. It is really much easier to simply accept minimal realism as the norm for science studies, and then to get on with one’s research.

Appendix

This Appendix supplements footnote 3 (p. 55) in this chapter.

In addition to works by Joseph Rouse, Trish Glazebrook, and Dimitri Ginev, discussed in this chapter, there are a significant number of other works also addressing the topic of Heidegger and realism. See:

William D. Blattner (1994), ‘Is Heidegger a Kantian Idealist?,’ Inquiry 37(2), 185–201.

William D. Blattner (2004), ‘Heidegger’s Kantian Idealism Revisited,’ Inquiry 47(4), 321–37.

Patrick L. Bourgeois and Sandra B. Rosenthal (1988), ‘Heidegger and Peirce: Beyond “Realism or Idealism,”’ Southwest Philosophy Review 4(1), 103–10.

David R. Cerbone (1995), ‘World, World-Entry, and Realism in Early Heidegger,’ Inquiry 38(4), 401–21.

David R. Cerbone (2005), ‘Realism and Truth,’ in A Companion to Heidegger, ed. by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 248–64.

Robert P. Crease (2009), ‘Covariant Realism,’ Human Affairs 19(2), 223–32.

Hubert L. Dreyfus (1991a), ‘Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Realism,’ in The Interpretive Turn: Philosophy, Science, Culture, ed. by David R. Hiley, James F. Bohman and Richard Shusterman (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), pp. 25–41.

Hubert L. Dreyfus (2001), ‘How Heidegger Defends the Possibility of a Correspondence Theory of Truth with Respect to the Entities of Natural Science,’ in The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, ed. by Theodore R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr D. Cetina and Eike von Savigny (London: Routledge), pp. 151–62.

Hubert L. Dreyfus and Charles Spinosa (1999), ‘Coping with Things-in-Themselves: A Practice-Based Phenomenological Argument for Realism,’ Inquiry 42(1), 49–78.

Piotr Hoffman (2000), ‘Heidegger and the Problem of Idealism,’ Inquiry 43(4), 403–12.

Ka-wing Leung (2006), ‘Heidegger on the Problem of Reality,’ The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy 6, 169–84.

Theodore R. Schatzki (1992), ‘Early Heidegger on Being, the Clearing, and Realism,’ in Heidegger: A Critical Reader, ed. by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Harrison Hall (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 81–98.

Hans Seigfried (1980), ‘Scientific Realism and Phenomenology,’ Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 34, 395-404.

Lambert V. Stepanich (1991), ‘Heidegger: Between Idealism and Realism,’ The Harvard Review of Philosophy (Spring), 20–28.

Mark Basil Tanzer (1995), ‘Heidegger’s Critique of Realism,’ Southwest Philosophy Review 11(2), 145–59.

Mark Basil Tanzer (1998), ‘Heidegger on Realism and Idealism,’ Journal of Philosophical Research 23, 95–111.

John Tiez (1993), ‘Heidegger on Realism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth,’ Dialogue 32(1), 59–75.

John Tiez (2005), ‘Heidegger on Science, Realism, and the Transcendence of the World: Being and Time, Section 69,’ Idealistic Studies 35(1), 1–20.

David J. Zoller (2012), ‘Realism and Belief Attribution in Heidegger’s Phenomenology of Religion,’ Continental Philosophy Review 45(1), 101–20.

Trish Glazebrook brings much of this debate into conversation with recent work in philosophy of science:

Trish Glazebrook (2001a), ‘Heidegger and Scientific Realism,’ Continental Philosophy Review 34(4), 361–401.

Also in addition to works by Rouse, Glazebrook, and Ginev, discussed in this chapter, there is there is an extensive literature more generally addressing the topic of Heidegger and science. See:

Harold Alderman (1978), ‘Heidegger’s Critique of Science and Technology,’ in Heidegger and Modern Philosophy, ed. by Michael Murray (New Haven: Yale University), pp. 35–50.

Babette E. Babich (1995), ‘Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science: Calculation, Thought, and Gelassenheit,’ in From Phenomenology to Thought, Errancy, and Desire: Essays in Honor of William J. Richardson, SJ, ed. by Babette E. Babich (Dordecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers), pp. 589–99.

Giorgio T. Bagni (2010), ‘Mathematics and Positive Sciences: A Reflection Following Heidegger,’ Education Studies in Mathematics 73(1), 75–85.

Edward G. Ballard (1971), ‘Heidegger’s View and Evaluation of Nature and Natural Science,’ in Heidegger and the Path of Thinking, ed. by John Sallis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), pp. 37–64.

Rainer A. Bast (1986), Der Wissenschaftsbegriff Martin Heideggers im Zusammenhang seiner Philosophie (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog Verlag).

William Blattner (1995), ‘Decontextualization, Standardization, and Deweyan Science,’ Man and World 28, 321–39.

John D. Caputo (1995), ‘Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science: The Two Essences of Science,’ in From Phenomenology to Thought, Errancy, and Desire: Essays in Honor of William J. Richardson, SJ, ed. by Babette E. Babich (Dordecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers), pp. 43–60.

John D. Caputo (2000), ‘Hermeneutics and the Natural Sciences: Heidegger, Science, and Essentialism,’ in More Radical Hermeneutics, by John D. Caputo (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), pp. 151–71, 281–84.

David R. Cerbone (2012), ‘Lost Belongings: Heidegger, Naturalism, and Natural Science,’ in Heidegger on Science, ed. by Trish Glazebrook (Albany: SUNY Press), pp. 131–55.

Catherine Chevalley (1992), ‘Heidegger and the Physical Sciences,’ in Martin Heidegger: Critical Assessments, vol. 4: Reverberations, ed. by Christopher Macaan (London: Routledge), pp. 342–64.

Robert P. Crease (1992), ‘The Problem of Experimentation,’ in Phenomenology of Natural Science, ed. by Lee Hardy and Lester Embree (Dordecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers), pp. 215–35.

Robert P. Crease (1993), The Play of Nature: Experimentation as Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press).

Shannon Dea (2009), ‘Heidegger and Galileo’s Slippery Slope,’ Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review 48(1), 59–76.

Dennis Desroches (2003), ‘Phenomenology, Science Studies, and the Question of Being,’ Configurations 11(3), 383–416.

Dimitri Ginev (2012), ‘Two Accounts of the Hermeneutic Fore-structure of Scientific Research,’ International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26(4), 423–45.

Trish Glazebrook (2000a), Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science (New York: Fordham University Press).

Trish Glazebrook, ed. (2012a), Heidegger and Science (Albany: SUNY Press).

Alan G. Gross (2006), ‘The Verbal and the Visual in Science: A Heideggerian Perspective,’ Science in Context 19(4), 443–74.

Karlfried Gründer (1963), ‘Heidegger’s Critique of Science in Its Historical Background,’ Philosophy Today 7(1), 15–32.

Patrick A. Heelan (1995), ‘Heidegger’s Longest Day: Twenty-Five Years Later,’ in From Phenomenology to Thought, Errancy, and Desire: Essays in Honor of William J. Richardson, SJ, ed. by Babette E. Babich (Dordecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers), pp. 579–87.

Theodore J. Kisiel (1970), ‘Science, Phenomenology, and the Thinking of Being,’ in Phenomenology and the Natural Sciences, Essays and Translations, ed. by Joseph J. Kockelmans and Theodore J. Kisiel (Evanston: Northwestern University Press), pp. 167–83.

Theodore J. Kisiel (1992), ‘Heidegger and the New Images of Science,’ in Martin Heidegger: Critical Assessments, vol. 4: Reverberations, ed. by Christopher Macaan (London: Routledge), pp. 325–41.

Julian Kiverstein, ed. (2012), Heidegger and Cognitive Science (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).

Joseph J. Kockelmans (1970), ‘Heidegger on the Essential Difference and Necessary Relationship between Philosophy and Science,’ in Phenomenology and the Natural Sciences, ed. by Kockelmans and Kisiel, pp. 147–-66.

Joseph J. Kockelmans (1985), Heidegger and Science (Lanham: The Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and The University Press of America).

David A. Kolb (1983), ‘Heidegger and the Limits of Science,’ Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 14(1), 50–64.

George Kovacs (1990), ‘Philosophy as Primordial Science (Urwissenschaft) in the Early Heidegger,’ Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 21(2), 121–35.

Lin Ma and Jaap van Brakel (2014), ‘Heidegger’s Thinking on the “Same” of Science and Technology,’ Continental Philosophy Review 47(1), 19–43.

James E. McGuire and Barbara Tuchanska (2000), Science Unfettered: A Philosophical Study in Sociohistorical Ontology (Athens OH: Ohio University Press).

Denis McManus (2007), ‘Heidegger, Measurement and the “Intelligibility” of Science,’ European Journal of Philosophy 15(1), 82–105.

Graeme Nicholson (2008), ‘Heidegger, Descartes and the Mathematical,’ in Descartes and the Modern, ed. by Neil Robertson, Gordon McOuat and Tom Vinci (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), pp. 216–34.

Matthew Ratcliffe (2002), ‘Heidegger’s Attunement and the Neuropsychology of Emotion,’ Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1(3), 287–312.

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (2010a), An Epistemology of the Concrete: Twentieth-Century Histories of Life (Durham: Duke University Press).

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (2010b), On Historicizing Epistemology: An Essay (Stanford: Stanford University Press).

William J. Richardson (1968), ‘Heidegger’s Critique of Science,’ New Scholasticism 42(4), 511–36.

Michael Roubach (1997), ‘Heidegger, Science, and the Mathematical Age,’ Science in Context 10(1), 199–206.

John Sallis (1971), ‘Toward the Movement of Reversal: Science, Technology, and the Language of Homecoming,’ in Heidegger and the Path of Thinking, ed. by John Sallis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), pp. 138–68.

Tibor Schwendtner (2005), Heideggers Wissenschaftsauffasung: Im Spiegel der Schriften 1919–29 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang).

Pablo Schyfter (2012), ‘Standing Reserves of Function: A Heideggerian Reading of Synthetic Biology,’ Philosophy & Technology 25(2), 199–219.

Robert Shaw (2013), ‘The Implications for Science Education of Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science,’ Education Philosophy and Theory 45(5), 546–70.

Charles Sherover (1967), ‘Heidegger’s Ontology and the Copernican Revolution,’ Monist 51(4), 559–73.

Carol J. Steiner (1999), ‘Constructive Science and Technology Studies: On the Path to Being?,’ Social Studies of Science 29(4), 583–616.


1 Simon Blackburn (2004), ‘Lights! Camera! Being!’ New Republic (February 23); Bruno Latour (1993), We Have Never Been Modern (Harvard: Harvard University Press), pp. 65, 66. I discuss Latour’s criticism in Jeff Kochan (2010b), ‘Latour’s Heidegger,’ Social Studies of Science 40(4), 579–98 (pp. 587–88).

2 Martin Heidegger (1962a [1927]), Being and Time, trans. by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 26 [6]. (Following scholarly convention, page numbers in square brackets refer to the original 1927 German edition of Being and Time.)

3 There is an extensive literature more generally addressing the topic of Heidegger on realism and science. However, a discussion of it would carry us too far beyond the narrow scope, and specific goals, of the present chapter. Curious readers may consult the Appendix at the end of this chapter (p. 106).

4 Trish Glazebrook (2012b), ‘Why Read Heidegger on Science?,’ in Heidegger on Science, ed. by Trish Glazebrook (Albany: SUNY Press), pp. 13–26 (p. 20); Trish Glazebrook (2001a), ‘Heidegger and Scientific Realism,’ Continental Philosophy Review 34(4), 361-401 (p. 368). The ontological difference is the difference, mentioned earlier, between being and entities.

5 Martin Heidegger (1982a [1975]), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. by Albert Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 78.

6 Glazebrook (2001a), ‘Heidegger and Scientific Realism,’ pp. 386, 361.

7 Glazebrook (2012b), ‘Why Read Heidegger on Science?,’ pp. 20, 21; Glazebrook (2001a) ‘Heidegger and Scientific Realism,’ pp. 377, 381, 382, 389.

8 Dimitri Ginev (2005), ‘Against the Politics of Postmodern Philosophy of Science,’ International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 19(2), 191–208 (p. 199); Dimitri Ginev (2011), The Tenets of Cognitive Existentialism (Athens OH: Ohio University Press) pp. 5, 103; Joseph Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power: Toward a Political Philosophy of Science (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), p. 103.

9 I also makes this argument, with slightly more detail, in Jeff Kochan (2015a), ‘Scientific Practice and Modes of Epistemic Existence,’ in Debating Cognitive Existentialism, ed. by Dimitri Ginev (Leiden: Brill Rodopi), pp. 95–106.

10 Glazebrook (2001a), ‘Heidegger and Scientific Realism,’ p. 386. Unfortunately, Glazebrook seems to immediately lose grip on this insight when, on the same page, she concludes that ‘the difference between theory and practice [is] the difference between two kinds of practice.’ She credits Rouse, in part, for having influenced her on this point.

11 Ginev (2005), ‘Against the Politics of Postmodern Philosophy of Science,’ p. 103.

12 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 408 [357].

13 Barry Barnes, David Bloor and John Henry (1996), Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis (London: Athlone), p. 30.

14 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 101 [71].

15 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 99 [69].

16 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 107 [76].

17 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 103 [73].

18 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 414 [363].

19 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, pp. 185 [145].

20 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 372 [324–25].

21 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 371 [324].

22 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, pp. 413–14 [362].

23 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 414 [362].

24 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 414 [363].

25 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 415 [364].

26 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 201 [158].

27 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 203 [160]. This claim will be given more detailed attention in Chapter Four.

28 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 409 [358].

29 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 409 [358].

30 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 409 [358].

31 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 246 [202].

32 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 246 [202].

33 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 251 [207].

34 Martin Heidegger (1985), History of the Concept of Time, trans. by Theodore Kisiel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), pp. 222–23.

35 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, pp. 255 [212], 245 [201].

36 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 255 [212].

37 Joseph P. Fell (1989), ‘The Familiar and the Strange: On the Limits of Praxis in the Early Heidegger,’ in Heidegger and Praxis, ed. by Thomas J. Nenon (The Southern Journal of Philosophy 28, Spindel Conference Supplement), pp. 23–41. Of the two other senses, the first is an ‘improper’ sense in which all entities, including the subject, are referred to as present-at-hand things. Obviously, this is not a use to which Heidegger puts the word. The second is a sense in which all referentiality fails and the world as a whole becomes unintelligible. Attention will be given to this underappreciated use of ‘present-at-hand’ in the latter part of Chapter Three.

38 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 200 [158].

39 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 22 [2–3].

40 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 23 [4].

41 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, pp. 78, 88.

42 Martin Heidegger (1995a [1983]), The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, trans. by William McNeill and Nicholas Walker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 331.

43 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 81; translation modified.

44 Charles H. Kahn (1966), ‘The Greek Verb “To Be” and the Concept of Being,’ Foundations of Language 2, 245–65 (p. 264).

45 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 67 [42].

46 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 115.

47 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 116.

48 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 169; translation modified.

49 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 170, 175.

50 Barnes (1992a), ‘Relativism, Realism and Finitism,’ in Cognitive Realism and Social Science, ed. by Diederick Raven, Lietke van Vucht and Jan de Wolf (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction), pp. 131–47 (p. 132).

51 Barnes (1992a), ‘Relativism, Realism and Finitism,’ p. 133.

52 David Bloor (2001), ‘What Is a Social Construct?,’ Facta Philosophica 3, 141–56 (p. 148).

53 Bloor (2001), ‘What Is a Social Construct?,’ p. 149.

54 David Bloor (1996), ‘Idealism and the Sociology of Knowledge,’ Social Studies of Science 26(4), 839–56 (p. 845).

55 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 175.

56 David Bloor (2004a), ‘Sociology of Scientific Knowledge,’ in Handbook of Epistemology, ed. by I. Niiniluoto, M. Sintonen and J. Woleński (Dordecht: Kluwer), pp. 919–62 (p. 942).

57 David Bloor (2003), ‘Skepticism and the Social Construction of Science and Technology: The Case of the Boundary Layer,’ in The Skeptics: Contemporary Essays, ed. by Steven Luper (Aldershot: Ashgate), pp. 249–65 (p. 263).

58 Bloor (2001), ‘What Is a Social Construct?,’ p. 150.

59 Bloor (2001), ‘What Is a Social Construct?,’ p. 150.

60 Bloor (2001), ‘What Is a Social Construct?,’ p. 153.

61 The present discussion draws, in part, from Jeff Kochan (2011a), ‘Getting Real with Rouse and Heidegger,’ Perspectives on Science 19(1), 81–115, which offers a more detailed critique of Rouse’s practical hermeneutics of science in the context of his interpretation of Heidegger. Anna de Bruyckere and Maarten Van Dyck have tried to defend Rouse against this critique (Anna de Bruyckere and Maarten Van Dyck (2013), ‘Being in or Getting at the Real: Kochan on Rouse, Heidegger and Minimal Realism,’ Perspectives of Science 21(4), 453–62). However, their argument crucially depends on the false claim that I treat existence as the ‘property’ of a thing. My view is that a thing must exist in order to have a property. Properties constitute the essence (whatness), not the existence (thatness), of things.

62 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 73.

63 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 73.

64 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 149 [114].

65 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 160.

66 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 162.

67 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 74.

68 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 79.

69 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 76. I criticises this statement in more detail in Kochan (2011a), ‘Getting Real with Rouse and Heidegger,’ p. 105. Denis McManus also challenges the veracity of Rouse’s statement (Denis McManus (2012), Heidegger and the Measure of Truth: Themes from his Early Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 66 n. 60). Elsewhere, McManus has also carefully examined the complex relationship between the ‘theoretical’ and the ‘practical’ in Heidegger’s early work (Denis McManus (2007), ‘Heidegger, Measurement and the “Intelligibility” of Science,’ European Journal of Philosophy 15(1), 82–105).

70 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 98.

71 Joseph Rouse (1985), ‘Science and the Theoretical “Discovery” of the Present-at-Hand,’ in Descriptions, ed. by Don Ihde and Hugh J. Silverman (Albany: SUNY Press), pp. 200–10 (p. 203); Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 75; Joseph Rouse (1998), ‘Heideggerian Philosophy of Science,’ in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4, ed. by Edward Craig (London: Routledge), pp. 323–27 (p. 324); Joseph Rouse (2005a), ‘Heidegger and Scientific Naturalism,’ in Continental Philosophy of Science, ed. by Gary Gutting (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 123–41 (p. 131); Joseph Rouse (2005b), ‘Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science,’ in A Companion to Heidegger, ed. by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Harrison Hall (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 173–89 (p. 181).

72 Nor has Rouse addressed any of the secondary literature which affirms the adequacy of Heidegger’s description of the change-over and, in some cases, substantially elaborates on it. See, for example: Rainer A. Bast (1986), Der Wissenschaftsbegriff Martin Heideggers im Zusammenhang seiner Philosophie (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog Verlag, pp. 139-62; Robert Brandom (1983), ‘Heidegger’s Categories in Being and Time,’ Monist 6(3), 387–409 (pp. 403–04); Joseph J. Kockelmans (1985), Heidegger and Science (Lanham: The Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology and The University Press of America), pp. 118-38; William McNeill (1999), The Glance of the Eye: Heidegger, Aristotle, and the Ends of Theory (Albany: SUNY Press), pp. 72–92; Tibor Schwendtner (2005), Heideggers Wissenschaftsauffasung: Im Spiegel der Schriften 1919-29 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang), pp. 50-86; Hans Seigfried (1980), ‘Scientific Realism and Phenomenology,’ Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 34, 395–404 (passim).

73 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 75.

74 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 96.

75 Robert Crease also notes Rouse’s failure to understand Heidegger on this point: ‘In effect, what Rouse has done is taken the traditional priority of theory over praxis and stood it on its head, when what is needed is a rethinking of that relation’ (Robert P. Crease (1993), The Play of Nature: Experimentation as Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 193 n. 43).

76 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 414 [362].

77 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 414 [363].

78 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 160.

79 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 160–61.

80 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 163.

81 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 163

82 Rouse (1987a), Knowledge and Power, p. 163f.

83 Joseph Rouse (2002a), ‘Vampires: Social Constructivism, Realism, and Other Philosophical Undead,’ History and Theory 41, 60–78 (p. 63).

84 Joseph Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science: How to Understand Its Practices Philosophically (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), p. 243; brackets original. Cf. Richard Rorty (1991), ‘Is Natural Science a Natural Kind?,’ in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Philosophical Papers, vol. 1), by Richard Rorty (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press), pp. 46–62.

85 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, p. 242.

86 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, p. 243.

87 Barnes, Bloor and Henry (1996), Scientific Knowledge, pp. 142, 141.

88 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, p. 244.

89 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, p. 244; emphasis added.

90 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, p. 9.

91 David Bloor (1991), Knowledge and Social Imagery, 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 7.

92 Joseph Rouse (2002b), How Scientific Practices Matter: Reclaiming Philosophical Naturalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 144 n. 7; Joseph Rouse (1999), ‘Understanding Scientific Practices: Cultural Studies of Science as a Philosophical Program,’ in The Science Studies Reader, ed. by Mario Biagioli (London: Routledge), pp. 442–56 (p. 451).

93 Barry Barnes (1982), T. S. Kuhn and Social Science (London: Macmillan), p. 124.

94 Barnes (1982), T. S. Kuhn and Social Science, p. xiv.

95 Barnes (1982), T. S. Kuhn and Social Science, p. 18.

96 Barnes (1982), T. S. Kuhn and Social Science, p. 71.

97 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, pp. 244–45. Cf. Harry M. Collins and Steven Yearley (1992), ‘Journey into Space,’ in Science as Practice and Culture, ed. by Andrew Pickering (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), pp. 369–89 (pp. 382–83).

98 Rouse (1996a), Engaging Science, p. 245.

99 Rouse (2002b), How Scientific Practices Matter, p. 136. A version of this criticism of SSK is repeated in Joseph Rouse (2015), Articulating the World: Conceptual Understanding and the Scientific Image (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 323.

100 Rouse (2002b), How Scientific Practices Matter, p. 134.

101 Collins and Yearley (1992), ‘Journey into Space,’ p. 382.

102 Carol Steiner describes this passage from Collins and Yearley as an ‘echo’ of Heidegger’s existential conception of science (Steiner (1999), ‘Constructive Science and Technology Studies,’ p. 602).

103 David Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 30(1), 81–112 (p. 92).

104 Rouse has more recently defended himself against this very kind of criticism, arguing that his method ‘must proceed from “in the thick of the human situation.”’ Hence: ‘It is one thing to look at particular social practices […] with “the cold eye of a stranger”; […] It is another thing altogether to try doing so for social practices […] generally’ (Rouse (2015), Articulating the World, p. 168).

105 Ginev (2011), Tenets of Cognitive Existentialism, p. 5. A more detailed criticism of Ginev, and Rouse, on this point may be found in Kochan (2015a), ‘Scientific Practice and Modes of Epistemic Existence.’ In a response to this criticism, Ginev has asserted that Heidegger never used existential conditions as an explanatory resource, and that his alleged mathematical essentialism was meant to be sui generis, ‘untranslatable,’ arising from ‘something like a “mysterious act”’ (Dimitri Ginev (2015), ‘The Battle for Mathematical Existentialism and the War of the Heideggerian Succession: Rejoinder to Kochan,’ in Debating Cognitive Existentialism, ed. by Dimitri Ginev (Leiden and Boston: Brill Rodopi), pp. 168–93 (p. 187). I disagree with Ginev, but, if he were right, then I would readily admit to demystifying Heidegger’s existential conception of science so as to make it a more interesting and useful explanatory resource for science studies scholars.

106 Ginev (2005), ‘Against the Politics of Postmodern Philosophy of Science,’ p. 198; Ginev (2011), The Tenets of Cognitive Existentialism, p. 102.

107 Ginev (2005), ‘Against the Politics of Postmodern Philosophy of Science,’ p. 202; Ginev (2011), The Tenets of Cognitive Existentialism, p. 108.

108 Rouse (1993), ‘What Are Cultural Studies of Scientific Knowledge?,’ Configurations 1(1), 57–94 (passim).

109 Joseph Rouse (1996b), ‘Feminism and the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge,’ in Feminism, Science, and the Philosophy of Science, ed. by L. H. Nelson and J. Nelson (Dordecht: Kluwer), pp. 195–215 (p. 196).

110 Joseph Rouse (1996b), ‘Feminism and the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge,’ pp. 198, 199.

111 Joseph Rouse (1996b), ‘Feminism and the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge,’ p. 203.

112 Joseph Rouse (1996b), ‘Feminism and the Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge,’ p. 204.

113 Bloor (2004a), ‘Sociology of Scientific Knowledge,’ p. 942.