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Chapter Three

Finitude, Humility, and the Bloor-Latour Debate

© Jeff Kochan, CC BY 4.0 http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0129.03

1. Introduction

Commenting on the minimal realism outlined in Chapter Two, some people have said that they find it very ‘Kantian,’ and expressed worry that it may be vulnerable to the dreaded Kantian ‘two-world problem.’ Minimal realism can indeed be justifiably described as ‘Kantian,’ but only in a highly qualified sense. In this chapter, I will present a detailed account of those qualifications. I will also defend minimal realism against the charge that it is vulnerable to the two-world problem. This defence will unfold as an intervention into the spirited 1999 debate between David Bloor and Bruno Latour, a debate which may well be one of the most dramatic dust-ups in the short history of science studies. The two-world problem was, I will argue, a central point around which this debate turned.

The two-world problem rests on the idea that there is, on the one hand, a world of appearance, and, on the other hand, a real world which underlies that appearance. The problem is enlivened by the further idea, attributed to Kant, that all we can know are appearances, that the real world underlying those appearances is something about which we can know nothing. The problem is: if we have no knowledge of the real world, then how can we know that it exists? The two-world problem is thus a version of the sceptical problem about the existence of the external world, to which we gave detailed attention in Chapter One. The Kantian version of this problem is usually articulated in terms of two distinct kinds of object, ‘phenomena’ and ‘noumena.’ The phenomena are the appearances, the things we can know. The noumena are the real things which underlie those appearances, the things we cannot know. Kant called a noumenon, the real thing about which we can know nothing, the ‘thing-in-itself.’ The problem thus becomes: if we cannot know anything about the thing-in-itself, then how can we know that it exists?

In Chapter One, I argued that external-world scepticism relies on a tacit acceptance of the glass-bulb model. The subject is trapped inside a glass bulb, and must find a way to burst through the barrier, thereby gaining access to the external world. We can now see that the glass-bulb model similarly grounds the two-world problem. Phenomena lie inside the bulb; things-in-themselves lie outside of it. How do we break out of the bulb, pushing past phenomenal appearances and grabbing hold of the thing-in-itself? How, indeed, when we have already been told that the thing-in-itself is something of which we can never grab hold, something which we can never know? One begins to wonder what the point ever was of positing the existence of the thing-in-itself. It seems like an idle wheel, spinning uselessly in imaginary space, never connecting with anything important or real.

But this is the wrong way to think about the thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself is not a figment of philosophical imagination. It is real, and it does indeed connect with other things. In her commentary on Kant, Rae Langton has argued this point with clarity and force. The next section will summarise the most important parts of her argument. In a nutshell, there are not two worlds in Kant, but only one; so there are not two distinct kinds of object, but only one. As Langton reads Kant, this single object can be known in two different ways: either imperfectly, by humans, or absolutely, by God. The thing-in-itself is the object as it can be known only by God. It marks the limits of human epistemic power. For Langton, then, the thing-in-itself signifies the fact of our own inherent finitude vis-à-vis an infinitely powerful God. She suggests that, for Kant, the appropriate response to this fact of human finitude was to adopt an attitude of epistemic humility.

Langton’s commentary provides a nice entry point into the Bloor-Latour debate. Latour first paints practitioners of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) as beholden to a Kantian concept of the thing-in-itself, then sets this image up in terms of the two-world problem, and finally submits SSK to what are, at root, standard sceptical criticisms. Bloor attempts to deflect Latour’s criticisms by arguing that acceptance of the concept of the thing-in-itself need not entail a further commitment to the two-world thesis. In making this argument, Bloor moves his account of the thing-in-itself closer to the one-world thesis, transforming Kant’s transcendental and individualistic account into a naturalistic and sociological one. This naturalistic strategy leads to a potential problem, however, as Langton’s commentary necessarily ties the concept of the thing-in-itself to the existence of a transcendent God, a supernatural and omniscient knower. Here Heidegger can come to Bloor’s aid. In fact, Heidegger had much to say about the Kantian thing-in-itself, and he also firmly rejected the two-world thesis. However, in contrast to Langton, he conceptualised human finitude, not against the image of an omniscient God, but against the notion of a nature which necessarily slips free from our attempts to know it once and for all. As we will see, this move is compatible with Bloor’s own account, and even provides further resources for strengthening his defence of SSK against Latour’s challenge. The argument of this chapter thus reinforces and extends the combination of SSK and existential phenomenology pursued in Chapters One and Two. Furthermore, by recognising a role for an independently existing nature, Heidegger’s account is also compatible with minimal realism. In the penultimate section of this chapter, I suggest an account of Heideggerian, in contrast to Kantian, humility: that is, an attitude of humility which arises, not in response to our finitude vis-à-vis an infinitely powerful God, but in response to the inevitable finitude of our epistemic powers when confronted with the insuperability of an independently existing nature. I commend this as a suitable attitude for a minimally realist approach in science studies.

Before moving into the argument of the chapter, it may be worth addressing a potential confusion on one point. It is important to carefully distinguish between the epistemic finitude to be discussed here and the doctrine of ‘finitism’ common in the SSK literature. They are not the same, though they are closely related. Bloor writes that ‘finitism is probably the most important single idea in the sociological vision of knowledge.’1 In my view, if SSK practitioners wish to protect their realist credentials, then finitude should also be counted among their most important ideas.

Finitism is the view that the correctness of an act of concept application is not determined by absolute standards. As Barry Barnes writes, every such act is ‘open-ended and revisable’: ‘[n]othing in the nature of things, or the nature of language, or the nature of past usage, determines how we employ, or correctly employ, our terms.’2 What determines correct usage is, rather, the community of language users. Having been taught to which birds I should apply the word ‘duck,’ I may err by going on to apply it to a goose. I will then be corrected. The standard according to which I am corrected is a community standard; it is a social convention belonging to a tradition of language users. Hence, the standard is not absolute but historically contingent. It may change over time as the community changes. Other communities, in turn, may have different standards for making sense of the same thing. In short, our power to successfully create meaning is finite in scope, because it is bounded by the range of possibilities made available to us by the historical tradition in which we necessarily find ourselves.

It will be useful to place these considerations against the backdrop of Langton’s argument that the Kantian thing-in-itself can be known in two distinct ways: one human and imperfect; the other divine and absolute. Here, the finitude of human thinking is defined by contrast to the infinite power of an omniscient God. In his naturalistic and sociological appropriation of Kant’s thing-in-itself, Bloor replaces God with society. He argues, following Émile Durkheim, that ‘God [is] really the social collectivity.’3 Hence, the final arbiter of right and wrong in acts of thinking and naming is not God, but us.

So much, I think, agrees with Heidegger’s own account of the thing-in-itself. But now we come to an ambiguity in SSK’s presentation of finitism, one which Heidegger’s notion of finitude can help us to clear up. Recall, from Chapter Two, Heidegger’s distinction between the existence and the essence of a thing. Heidegger traced the roots of this distinction back to the Biblical view that all things owe their existence to a divine Creator. Medieval Christian metaphysicians transformed this doctrine into the claim that God first establishes the essence of a thing, and then actualises that essence by bringing the thing into existence. On this model, there is, strictly speaking, no independently existing thing, because the thing depends on God for its existence. However, because God does not depend on us, neither does the thing. We are thus justified in being realists about the thing. Now turn back to the Kantian thing-in-itself. The ambiguity in the finitist account is this: if God is the source of both the essence and the existence of the thing, and if God is really the social collectivity, then does it not follow that society is the source of both the essence and the existence of the thing? If this is so, then the finitist account would seem incompatible with the core realist doctrine of independent existence. The finitism of SSK thus seems to conflict with its realism. As we will see, Latour forcefully exploits this apparent conflict in his dispute with Bloor.

Heidegger’s notion of finitude may be used to resolve this conflict by bringing into sharper focus the metaphysical presuppositions which have been left largely unexamined by the proponents of finitism. In doing so, we can fully complete the naturalisation of Kant’s transcendental account of the thing-in-itself. On this fully naturalised account, the social collectivity does not construct the thing ex nihilo; it only constructs the categories by which its members may make sense of that thing. The thing is thus a thing-in-itself. As such, it marks the extreme limit of our constructive power. It is against the independent existence of this thing that we come to recognise our basic condition as finite beings. Residual supernatural notions of an infinitely constructive power have no place in this recognition. With these considerations in mind, let us now proceed into the chapter.

2. Kantian Humility and the Thing-in-Itself

Two distinct theses figure prominently in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason: an epistemological thesis; and a metaphysical thesis. The epistemological thesis endorses an empiricist theory of knowledge, which states that our physical senses provide the only means by which to gain knowledge of the world. Furthermore, Kant specifies that our senses are causally affected by things, and describes this in terms of our ‘receptivity’ towards those things. The metaphysical thesis, in turn, asserts the existence of what Kant variously calls a ‘substance’ or ‘absolute substance,’ a ‘transcendental object,’ a ‘noumenon,’ or a ‘thing-in-itself.’ Notoriously, Kant argued that, although things-in-themselves exist, we cannot know them. We can only know what affects our senses, and things-in-themselves can do no such thing. As we saw above, Kant has thus been widely interpreted as positing the existence of two distinct and separate worlds, one which touches our senses, a world of appearances, and the other comprised of things-in-themselves. This two-worlds view has received a considerable amount of criticism since it was first attributed to Kant.

In her 1998 book, Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves, Rae Langton rejects this two-world interpretation, and offers an alternative interpretation of Kant’s position. She argues that, for Kant, there was only one world: the world of things. These things, however, feature two distinct, non-overlapping sets of properties: relational and intrinsic.4 Relational properties causally affect our senses, while intrinsic properties do not. Hence, employing Kant’s epistemological, or empirical, thesis, we can conclude that we do indeed know the things themselves, but only through their relational properties. Kant’s term ‘thing-in-itself’ refers to the thing as it is on its own, independently of any causal relation to a subject. The thing-in-itself is the thing as it exists in itself in contrast to as it exists in relation to us. In a lucid turn of phrase, Langton thus describes the autonomous thing-in-itself as ‘lonely.’5 The term ‘thing-in-itself’ refers not to one kind of thing rather than another — to a noumenal rather than a phenomenal thing, a transcendental rather than an empirical object — but to two distinct ways in which one single thing may exist: either in itself or in relation to a knower. According to Langton, it is precisely the thing as it exists in itself, in isolation from us, which Kant says we cannot know. When Kant says that we cannot know the thing-in-itself, he means specifically that we cannot know it because it is autonomous and lonely, because it has no relation to anything beyond itself. Existing in this way, the thing has only intrinsic properties, properties which extend only to itself, and thus cannot affect our senses. Hence, although we can know that the thing-in-itself exists, because it is identical with the thing as it relates to our senses, we can never know what it is in respect of its intrinsic properties. As Langton writes, ‘[w]e can know that there are things that have intrinsic properties without knowing what those properties are.’6 Of course, this sounds a lot like the minimal realism I drew from both Heidegger and SSK in Chapter Two. However, as we shall see in this chapter, both Heidegger and SSK depart from Kant in a number of important and interesting ways. For the moment, let us focus on what they all have in common.

There are three things shared by Kant, Heidegger, and SSK relevant to the present discussion. First, all are committed to receptivity, that is, to the view that knowledge necessarily depends on the way things causally affect our senses. They all thus endorse, in one way or another, the empirical basis of all knowledge. Second, they are all committed to epistemic finitude. In other words, they accept that we are finite beings, and hence that there is a necessary limit to what we can know. For example, they all agree that we cannot gain knowledge about things-in-themselves. Third, all three are committed, one way or another, to an attitude described by Langton as ‘humility.’ This is a direct result of their acceptance of epistemic finitude. In the case of Kant, according to Langton, the move from finitude to humility is mediated by Kant’s distinction between sensible intuition, on the one hand, and ‘intellectual intuition,’ on the other. Sensible intuition is a characteristic of finite humans, and it allows them to perceive the relational properties of things. Intellectual intuition, by contrast, belongs only to God, and it allows God to pick out the intrinsic properties of things, among which Kant includes things-in-themselves.7 Kantian humility must thus be understood as humility in the face of the absolute knowledge of a divine being. In the case of both Heidegger and SSK, so I argue, the move from finitude to humility is mediated by a rejection of absolute knowledge, as such, and the endorsement instead of an account of knowledge as an inherently contextual phenomenon, the scope of which is determined, in significant part, by the social and historical conditions under which the subject necessarily finds itself. We thus express humility, not before the omnipotence and omniscience of an absolute God, but before a natural world which constantly outstrips our best efforts to know it.

A crucial claim in the argument of this chapter is that the concept of an ‘intrinsic property’ is only accidentally related to the concept of a ‘thing-in-itself.’ In other words, we can relieve the thing-in-itself of its intrinsic properties without threatening our belief in its independent existence. In my view, this claim is implicit in the positions taken up by both SSK practitioners and Heidegger, and it lies at the core of their consequential departure from Kant’s own position.

Langton attributes two fundamental claims to Kant: first, that the thing-in-itself must have an independent existence, that it must exist and be lonely; second, and most crucial for Kant, that the thing-in-itself must possess intrinsic properties. Langton argues that the possession by the thing-in-itself of intrinsic properties is consistent with its autonomous existence and its being lonely. Let us allow that this was Kant’s view. Notice, however, that the fact that these two claims are consistent with one another does not entail that their connection is also a necessary one. While the independent existence of the thing-in-itself may be consistent with its possessing intrinsic properties, it is also consistent with its not possessing any such properties. This possibility is, in my view, the one best suited to understanding the respective positions of Heidegger and SSK practitioners when it comes to the thing-in-itself.

As it turns out, Langton also entertains this as a possible view held by Kant, one in which the thing-in-itself is a ‘bare substratum’ without intrinsic properties.8 The idea is that if we cannot know the intrinsic properties of the thing-in-itself, then we cannot assert that those properties exist. Indeed, we may just as well assert that they do not exist. The fact that such properties do not exist can then be used to explain why we cannot know, indeed why not even a divine agent could know, that they exist. Langton thinks that if Kant had held such a view, then ‘[h]e would be guilty of no contradiction.’9 However, she then goes on to argue that, although this position has ‘some prima facie plausibility,’ there is strong evidence that Kant rejected it.10 On her reading, Kant was fully committed to the views that, first, ‘[i]f a substance can exist on its own, it must have properties that are compatible with its existing on its own,’ and, second, that we cannot know the intrinsic properties of this independently existing substance, or thing-in-itself.11 Langton cites the following passage from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in order to support her reading: ‘Substances in general must have some intrinsic nature, which is therefore free from all external relations.’12

According to Langton, in this passage Kant is not saying that the intrinsic properties of the thing-in-itself cannot be known at all. He is, rather, saying that we cannot know them given our current cognitive endowment. Indeed, she goes on to cite another passage, wherein Kant refers to the thing-in-itself as something ‘of which we know, and with the present constitution of our understanding can know, nothing whatsoever.’13 Langton thus concludes that, for Kant, the thing-in-itself does possess intrinsic, knowable, properties, but that the limited nature of our current cognitive abilities prevents us from gaining any knowledge of those properties. It would seem, then, that Kant’s commitment to the thesis that things-in-themselves possess intrinsic properties, unknowable by humans, implies a further commitment to the corresponding thesis that there exists a superhuman agent who is able to know such properties. It is difficult to imagine what else might have motivated Kant’s commitment to the first thesis if not his commitment to the second. It thus looks like Kant’s doctrine that the thing-in-itself possesses intrinsic properties may, at base, have been motivated by a theological doctrine attesting the existence of a subject with absolute cognitive faculties, in a word, God.

In what follows, I shall argue that Heidegger modifies Kant’s doctrine of humility by rejecting the possibility of absolute, or divine, knowledge of the intrinsic properties of the thing-in-itself, and so also the possibility of the existence of such properties. For the time being, we should bear in mind the interrelatedness of Kant’s respective beliefs in the existence of intrinsic properties and the possibility of absolute knowledge, as this will prove crucial for our understanding of what is at stake in the debate between Bloor and Latour. Let us turn, then, to this important disagreement in the science studies literature.

3. Latour’s Attack on Social Constructivism

Latour’s condemnation of the alleged Kantianism of SSK practitioners is of a piece with his allegedly radical appropriation and revision of Bloor’s symmetry principle.14 This principle famously stipulates that the sociology of knowledge should be symmetrical in its style of explanation, that the same types of cause should be used to explain both true and false, rational and irrational, or successful and unsuccessful beliefs.15 Latour argues that Bloor’s symmetry principle is, in fact, profoundly asymmetrical. At the root of this purported asymmetry is Bloor’s allegedly uncritical adoption of the Kantian subject-object distinction, where the ‘subject pole’ is occupied by the transcendental Ego and the ‘object pole’ is occupied by the thing-in-itself. According to Latour, Kant gathered all explanatory resources around the transcendental subject, thereby reducing the thing-in-itself to absolute passivity.16 The result of this is a striking asymmetry in the way Kant treated the subject and object poles. In Latour’s view, by reducing the thing-in-itself to absolute passivity, Kant robbed it of any role in explanations of the genesis of scientific knowledge. All the epistemic action takes place around the subject pole. Latour claims that, in the field of science studies, Bloor’s 1976 book, Knowledge and Social Imagery, stands as the ‘high-tide mark’ of Kantian asymmetry.17 According to Latour, Bloor has simply replaced the transcendental Ego at Kant’s subject pole with Durkheim’s ‘macro-Society.’18 In this sociological version of Kant, all explanatory resources are now gathered around society while the thing-in-itself, or ‘Nature,’ remains absolutely passive.

Latour describes Bloor’s Durkheimian appropriation of Kant as the ‘social turn’ in science studies, and he calls for its rejection and replacement through ‘one more turn after the social turn.’ This further turn is meant to finally result in the symmetry Bloor had sought after but failed to achieve. In formulating this new, allegedly more radical, symmetry principle, Latour takes the explanatory resources away, not just from the object pole, but also from the subject pole. Like nature, society too will no longer serve as a resource in explanations of the genesis of scientific knowledge, but will instead stand, like nature, as a topic in need of explanation. Latour claims that it would be more in keeping with the empirical findings of science studies if both nature and society were to be viewed as constructed, and thus as explicable in terms of their constructedness. For Latour, then, the thing-in-itself is not an independently existing thing which necessarily rebuffs all of our attempts to know it. Instead, it is a wholly constructed thing, and we may thus come to know it by studying the processes by which it has come into existence. It is thus not really something existing in itself at all, but something which exists only in relation to us. Note that, in his critique of SSK, Latour has shifted the focus of analysis from the construction of knowledge about nature to the construction of nature as such. The distinction between knowledge and its object has been erased along with Kant’s distinction between subject and object. As we will see later in this chapter, this shift in emphasis marks the weak point in Latour’s criticism of SSK.19

Latour’s new symmetry seems to be accompanied by an implicit epistemological assumption, namely, that we know only what we make. He holds that we can know the thing-in-itself because we have participated in its production. For Latour, then, the Kantian thing-in-itself is not really an independently existing thing. It needs us in order to exist, and thus is neither lonely nor autonomous. As a result, Latour’s new symmetry principle would appear to jettison the Kantian doctrine of humility, since there appears to be nothing to whose existence we have not contributed, nothing which lies outside the scope of our constructive influence, and hence nothing about which we cannot gain knowledge. Since the notion of the thing-in-itself just is, by definition, a name for what lies beyond our epistemic reach, the unrestrained constructivity of Latour’s proposal leads him to reject this notion, along with the finitude and humility it implies.

4. Bloor’s Defence of Social Constructivism

Seven years after Latour’s attack appeared in print, Bloor responded with a strongly worded defence, in which he rejects Latour’s claim that SSK practitioners are little more than ‘unreconstructed Kantians.’20 Indeed, he argues that Durkheim’s reworking of Kantian themes allows for a viable naturalistic and sociological reading of Kant’s subject-object distinction. For Bloor, a naturalistic reading of that schema must be distinguished from an individualistic and transcendental reading. He argues that the rejection of this latter reading of the distinction does not necessitate rejecting it in all cases. The subject-object distinction may still prove useful for anti-individualistic and naturalistic analyses of scientific knowledge production. Understood naturalistically, the subject-object distinction is, according to Bloor, a ‘biological given.’21 As we will see, Bloor’s proposed naturalisation of the distinction marks a substantial departure from Kant’s original position, including Kant’s notion of the thing-in-itself.

While acknowledging that the thing-in-itself may refer to the noumenal basis of Kant’s subject-object distinction, Bloor suggests that it can also be employed in reference to ‘more common-sense ideas about the independence of the objects of nature from our ideas about them.’22 Introducing a simplified, individualistic model, he briefly describes a naturalistic setting in which an organism learns about its environment by causally interacting with it. This process, he suggests, involves varying degrees of active engagement and disengagement with the environment. These are causal and biological processes which do not derive from culture, but are instead presupposed by it.23 Hence, according to Bloor, a naturalised subject-object distinction can be used as a conceptual tool for explaining the way in which one part of nature (the organism, or subject) interacts with another part of nature (the organism’s environment, or object).24 Unfortunately, Bloor does not develop his naturalistic description beyond the individual level. However, if we were to extend this simplified, individualistic model to the more complex social level, his general idea would seem to be that organisms depend on one another as they engage with, disengage with, and otherwise learn about their environment. On Bloor’s account, then, there is a biologically given level of fundamental sociality which will be presupposed in any naturalistic account of the emergence of culture, in general, and science in particular.25

Bloor thus charges Latour with having failed to sufficiently distinguish between the historically contingent ways of formally articulating the subject-object distinction, on the one hand, and the biological and causal phenomenon which constitute the natural ground for that distinction, on the other. Bloor argues that Kant’s individualistic and transcendental presentation of the distinction may be both socialised and naturalised in a way which brings it more firmly in line with its original biological and causal foundation. On this basis, Bloor furthermore rejects Latour’s claim that SSK reduces the object pole of the distinction, that is, nature, to absolute passivity. According to the naturalistic construal of the subject-object distinction, the object pole, the thing-in-itself, is conceived as active because it exercises causal agency.26 That nature is causally active is entailed by Kant’s claim that we can only know a thing if it can affect us. As Langton argues, knowledge entails receptivity. The basic idea is that we form beliefs about nature on the basis of our causal interaction with it. However, although nature plays a necessary causal role in the formation of our beliefs about it, it is not a sufficient cause for those beliefs. On Bloor’s account, the claim that a necessary but insufficient causal role must be played by nature is methodologically crucial, for without it we could not make sense of the fact that two scientists may form contradictory beliefs about the same natural phenomenon. This claim is, of course, also consistent with minimal realism.

Bloor elaborates on the necessary but insufficient causal role played by the thing-in-itself in the formation of scientific knowledge by discussing the contradictory interpretations of Robert Millikan and Felix Ehrenhaft in respect of the natural effects of what we now know as electrons.27 On the basis of the experimental data, Millikan believed that he had secured evidence confirming Rutherford’s electron theory. In contrast, Ehrenhaft, also on the basis of the experimental data, believed that he had secured evidence falsifying Rutherford’s theory. Bloor argues that, because both interpretations were based on data produced by natural causes, that data alone cannot explain their divergence.

If we believe, as most of us do believe, that Millikan got it basically right, it will follow that we also believe that electrons, as part of the world Millikan described, did play a causal role in making him believe in, and talk about electrons. But then we have to remember that (on such a scenario) electrons will also have played their part in making sure that Millikan’s contemporary and opponent, Felix Ehrenhaft, didn’t believe in electrons. Once we realise this, then there is a sense in which the electron ‘itself’ drops out of the story because it is a common factor behind two different responses, and it is the cause of the difference that interests us.28

In the cases of both Millikan and Ehrenhaft, a complete causal explanation for their respective interpretations must refer to something beyond the thing-in-itself, the independently existing natural thing, to which they were equally exposed. For SSK practitioners, this ‘something beyond’ is social causation. Only by citing both natural and social causes can the sociologist uncover the necessary and sufficient conditions for the formation of the beliefs in question. Because Millikan and Ehrenhaft were similarly affected by nature, the difference in their respective interpretations must therefore be explained by a divergence in the social conditions influencing the formation of their respective interpretations of the data. This line of argument follows from what is commonly called the ‘underdetermination thesis.’ This thesis states that the data resulting from natural causes underdetermines the interpretations which arise in response to that data. This is just another way of saying that such data is necessary but not sufficient for explaining the way in which it is interpreted. The underdetermination thesis plays a fundamental role in the methodology of SSK, in particular, and of social constructivism, in general. Let us now turn to Latour’s response to Bloor’s defence of social constructivism.

5. Where the Dust Settles in the Debate

In responding to Bloor’s defence, Latour no longer argues that SSK treats the thing-in-itself, the object pole of the subject-object distinction, as absolutely passive. Instead, he argues that SSK’s underdetermination thesis is premised on an unacceptably impoverished view of the role played by objects. He criticizes Bloor for allegedly making the claim that, in the disagreement between Millikan and Ehrenhaft over the existence of electrons, the electron ‘itself’ makes ‘no difference’: ‘Now, I want someone to explain to me what it is for an object to play a role if it makes no difference.’29 Latour then goes on to argue that, for SSK, ‘electrons “themselves” are not allowed to cause our interpretations of them, no matter how much scientists engage in making them have a bearing, a causality, on what they (the scientists) say about them (the electrons).’30 I will comment on Latour’s complaint in the next but one section. Note for now, however, that, as will be clear from the long passage from Bloor quoted at the end of the last section, Bloor does not claim that the electron ‘makes no difference’ to what Millikan and Ehrenhaft believe about it. His claim is, rather, that its causal effects cannot explain the difference between the scientists’ respective beliefs. As Bloor observes, Latour has ‘confused different “differences.”’31

In any case, on the basis of his interpretation of this passage, Latour concludes that the underdetermination thesis is an ‘absurd position’ not worth defending even when it is being attacked by ‘even more stupid enemies.’32 Latour then proceeds to rephrase Bloor’s term ‘electron “itself”’ as ‘electron in itself,’ allowing him to more easily identify it with the Kantian thing-in-itself.33 On this basis, he argues that for the SSK practitioner, just as for Kant, the thing-in-itself plays no other role than to allow one to distinguish between competing philosophical schools. More specifically, he claims that the thing-in-itself serves only to protect SSK against charges of idealism. This, in Latour’s view, is the only real difference it makes.

Yet, as Langton’s reading of Kant suggests, the notion of the thing-in-itself was motivated not by Kant’s desire to deflect charges of idealism, but rather by his recognition that our ability to acquire knowledge of nature is inescapably finite. Latour thus seems to have misunderstood the motivation behind Kant’s position. Indeed, Latour characterises the thing-in-itself, not as the mark of an independently existing nature, not as a sign of human finitude and a reason for humility, but rather as a symptom of an unseemly absolutism and hubris: ‘It is through nature that the whole history of absolutism has been developed.’34 He thus proposes that the concept of nature be topicalised and deconstructed. Insofar as the term ‘nature’ here stands for the Kantian transcendental object, a thing-in-itself possessing intrinsic but unknowable properties, this may well be good advice. However, this is not what Bloor means by the term ‘nature’ and, as we will see in the next section, Heidegger provided just the sort of topicalisation and deconstruction called for by Latour. I will argue that Heidegger’s conclusions tend to support Bloor rather than Latour.

As we have seen, Bloor maintains that the thing-in-itself, which he takes to be an independently existing ‘natural object,’ does not on its own provide sufficient grounds for explaining the interpretive disagreements which may arise between scientists regarding the experimental data related to that object. Central to Bloor’s position is his conviction that the resulting interpretations are underdetermined by that data. This conviction traces its conceptual roots, in significant part, back to Kant. However, in his response to Latour’s rejection of the Kantian thing-in-itself, Bloor furthermore argues that the underdetermination thesis does not depend on, nor does it push us towards, viewing natural objects in the way Kant did.35 Bloor appears to both move towards and pull away from Kant.

The apparent conflict in Bloor’s attitude may be resolved once we recognise that he does not reject the basic common-sense impulse behind Kant’s notion of the thing-in-itself — belief in an independently existing nature — but instead follows Durkheim in formally developing that impulse differently than did Kant. Where Kant viewed the thing-in-itself as a transcendental object standing opposite an individual subject, Bloor views it a natural object standing opposite a society of subjects. Bloor then argues that both nature and society make a necessary contribution to the development of scientific knowledge. Latour misreads Bloor as denying a significant causal role to nature, and, on that basis, he concludes that the underdetermination thesis is absurd. But, for Bloor, the underdetermination thesis is not absurd, because the causal efficacy of an independently existing nature is beyond doubt. Against Latour’s misplaced criticism, Bloor reasserts that ‘the richness of the natural world, and the complexity of the scientist’s engagement with it, is central to the thesis of underdetermination when properly understood, and hence to the Strong Program’ in SSK.36

This is where the dust settles in the exchange between Bloor and Latour. I have argued that SSK’s endorsement of a modified version of Kant’s notion of the thing-in-itself fits hand in glove with its realist commitment to the independent existence of nature. Latour’s attack on this modified notion of the thing-in-itself may thus be viewed as a simultaneous attack on SSK’s realism. In Chapter Two, I promoted a minimal realist reading of Heidegger’s work, and suggested that this minimal realism bears much in common with SSK’s residual realism. In fact, it turns out that the realism on both sides is based, in significant part, on a critical appropriation of Kant’s notion of the thing-in-itself. Indeed, Heidegger had much to say about the Kantian thing-in-itself. I want to now show that attention to Heidegger on this point will help us to more fully illuminate some of the key points in the dispute between Bloor and Latour, as well as to more fully understand the ways in which Bloor’s notion of the thing-in-itself departs from that of Kant.

6. Heidegger and the Thing-in-Itself

In Being and Time and other writings from the late 1920s, Heidegger offers numerous critical comments on Kant’s thing-in-itself, in particular, and his subject-object distinction, more generally. Heidegger is not so much concerned with the distinction between subject and object as he is with the presuppositions Kant relies on in schematising that distinction as a formal structure. In Heidegger’s view, Kant grounds the distinction uncritically in an ontology which construes both subject and object in terms of substance. Heidegger’s criticism focuses especially on Kant’s assumption that the subject is to be understood, first and foremost, as a thinking substance.37 As we saw in Chapter One, Heidegger’s existential analysis of the subject is meant to dig beneath the orthodox notion of the subject as a thinking substance which seeks access to the world, bringing out instead the more fundamental existential state of the subject as already existing in the world alongside and along with other entities. Hence, Heidegger does not reject the subject-object distinction as such; he instead challenges its Kantian formulation which presupposes a theory-laden conceptualisation of the subject in terms of substance.

We can draw on Heidegger’s critique of Kant in order to challenge Langton’s Kantian claim that the thing-in-itself is necessarily an object with intrinsic properties. Note that this critical move does not force us to also reject epistemic humility, or the finitude which motivates that humility. Heidegger argues that the problem presented by Kant’s thing-in-itself is not an epistemological but a metaphysical one. In Kant, the notion of the thing-in-itself correlates with the existence of an absolute knower, and so a rejection of Kant’s notion entails the corresponding rejection of an absolute knower.38 The move here is to repudiate the thing-in-itself just insofar as it correlates with an absolute thinking substance-subject, but not to repudiate the concept as such. The problem Heidegger locates in Kant is not based on the epistemic question of whether one could gain knowledge of the intrinsic properties of things-in-themselves, but on the metaphysical question of whether a knower with the requisite absolute epistemic powers could at all exist. For Kant, the answer to this metaphysical question was yes, but the absolute knower is God not the finite human. The finite human should thus express humility in the face of God’s infinite epistemic power.

According to Heidegger, Kant makes a distinction between the thing-in-itself as an object grasped by absolute understanding, on the one hand, and the thing-in-itself as an object grasped by finite understanding, on the other. The former grasps the thing-in-itself absolutely, in terms of the thing’s own intrinsic properties, while the latter only grasps it as an ‘appearance’ and remains ignorant of those intrinsic properties. Heidegger thus reads Kant in a similar way to Langton. Both scholars reject the ‘two-world’ thesis. For Heidegger, as for Langton, there are not two different kinds of thing in Kant, the phenomenal and noumenal, but rather one kind of thing understood in two different ways, either finitely or infinitely.39 In his commentary on Kant, Heidegger wrote that ‘the entity “in appearance” is the same entity as the entity in itself, and this alone. As an entity, it alone can become an object, although only for a finite [act] of knowledge.’ Later he emphasised, in a marginal note alongside this passage, that this is ‘not the sameness of the What, but rather the That of the X!’40 The X is the thing-in-itself, an entity about which we can say that it exists, but not what it is. Heidegger’s conception of the thing-in-itself thus draws on his distinction between existence and essence, that-being and what-being, which was discussed at length in Chapter Two.

Heidegger furthermore argues that, because Kant took the fundamentality of substance ontology for granted, he uncritically conceptualised the subject-object distinction as one between a discrete substance-subject, on the one hand, and a discrete substance-object, on the other. As a consequence, Kant was forced to address the problem of how the subject-substance crosses over, or transcends, the barrier separating it from the world conceived as object-substance, a world containing independently existing things. This is the problem of the glass-bulb model, introduced in Chapter One. For Kant, only an absolute or infinite subject is capable of this kind of transcendence, that is, of grasping independently existing things as they are in themselves. Because human beings are finite creatures without absolute epistemic powers, this kind of transcendence is closed off to us. Kant thus concludes that we grasp things only as they appear to us, not as they are in themselves.

Heidegger challenges Kant’s treatment of the subject-object distinction by re-interpreting Kant’s notion of transcendence. As we saw in Chapter One, Heidegger argues that the subject is not a substance condemned to an inner realm from which it must win its freedom in order to achieve knowledge of an external world. On the contrary, the subject already exists alongside and along with other entities in the world. Hence, argues Heidegger, the subject is not in search of transcendence; it is transcendence itself. The subject does not transcend its own finite limits in order to achieve contact with an independently existing thing-in-itself. Rather, as being-in-the-world, the subject already exists alongside independently existing things. Hence, its transcendence carries it, not towards those things, but away from them, towards a recognition of the projected world which provides the existential conditions structuring its possibilities for understanding and engaging with those independent things.

[W]hat Dasein surpasses in its transcendence is not a gap or barrier ‘between’ itself and objects. But entities, among which Dasein also factically is, get surpassed by Dasein. Objects are surpassed in advance; more exactly, entities are surpassed and can subsequently become objects. […] [A]s transcending, Dasein is beyond nature, although, as factical, it remains environed by nature. […] That towards which the subject transcends is what we call world. […] [W]e characterize the basic phenomenon of Dasein’s transcendence with the expression being-in-the-world.41

Against Kant’s notion of the subject as a substance, Heidegger offers an account of the subject in terms of being-in-the-world. In this way, he dissolves the epistemological problem which so exercised Kant, namely, the problem of how an internal thinking substance may cross over to, so as to then grasp, an external object. This external object is Kant’s thing-in-itself, which, according to Langton, Kant construed as a substance possessed of intrinsic properties.

In abandoning the Kantian construal of the thing-in-itself, Heidegger also abandons the corresponding notion of absolute understanding. He describes his rejection of this latter notion as ‘ontic atheism,’ that is, the repudiation of the idea that God is a substance with an infinite power to absolutely grasp the objects of the world in their intrinsic features.42 By abandoning the notion of an infinitely powerful subject-substance, against which Kant measured the finitude of the human being, Heidegger suggests a reconceptualisation of the meaning of human finitude. He still understands finitude in terms of receptivity, but receptivity is no longer a sign of our lamentable inability to achieve absolute knowledge. It is no longer a deprived state in which we find ourselves permanently condemned to being affected by objects whose intrinsic properties we can never know. In contrast to Kant, Heidegger argues that the subject’s finitude is not an ‘ontic’ condition, that is, not a consequence of its being a finite substance. It is, rather, an ontological condition, that is, a consequence of the finite range of possibilities available to the subject as a form of existence. This finite range of possibilities opens up a horizon in which the subject may encounter things as what they are. Their whatness, their essence, is circumscribed by the horizon of existential possibilities within which the subject is able to make sense of them. However, to make sense of a thing entails that that thing exists as something of which sense may be made. Furthermore, if we are to make sense of a thing, it must first affect us. We must, in other words, be receptive to its influence. Receptivity is thus our capacity to be affected by the things-in-themselves alongside which we exist in the world.

Unlike Kant, Heidegger argues that the things towards which we are receptive, the things which affect us, are not objects with intrinsic properties which lie forever beyond our ken. Indeed, for Heidegger objecthood is a projection rather than an affect. The objecthood of the object, its fundamental essence as object, is something we construct rather than receive. This is why, in the long quote two paragraphs above, Heidegger writes that only in transcending things do we come to perceive them as objects. A thing affects us, but our understanding of that thing as an object with determinate properties, our making sense of its whatness in terms of objecthood, is something we project onto the thing rather than something we receive from it. One may say that the whatness of a thing is underdetermined by the way in which it affects our senses. Heidegger’s attention to the projective element in our understanding highlights an aspect of Kant’s philosophy which carries us beyond the exposition of Langton with which this chapter began. Langton’s commentary focuses almost exclusively on Kant’s notion of receptivity, but we must now broaden the scope of our attention to include Kant’s notion of spontaneity. Heidegger called this projective spontaneity ‘construction,’ writing that ‘the explicit execution of the projecting, and even what is grasped in the ontological, must necessarily be construction.’43 For Heidegger, then, objecthood lies on the constructive side of Kant’s distinction between receptivity and constructivity. In critical response to Kant and neo-Kantianism, Heidegger writes that ‘[an] entity is without a subject, but objects exist only for a subject that does the objectifying.’44 In other words, a thing becomes an object for us only when we constructively thematise it as such. Heidegger is making the general point that what affects our senses is a thing about which we may know that it is but not what it is. What affects us, in other words, is the thing described in Chapter Two, a thing which exists but lacks determinate properties: the thing-in-itself as Heidegger now construes it. On this reading of Heidegger, we cannot know what the thing-in-itself is, we cannot grasp its intrinsic properties, not because we are finite, but because the thing-in-itself has no such properties. The issue here is thus not, as Langton says it was for Kant, the finitude of our receptivity, for even an infinitely receptive knower will fail to be affected by what was never there in the first place. The issue here is instead the finitude of our constructivity. Unlike an infinitely constructive knower, we do not construct the thing-in-itself in an act of knowing; we instead only construct the categories through which we are able to know it. Whereas Kantian humility is prompted by the finitude of our receptivity, Heideggerian humility is prompted by the finitude of our constructivity.

To sum up this section, the categories which enable understanding are projected through our constructive power. The finite number of categories available to us determines the limited number of ways in which we may make sense of things-in-themselves. This finite constructive project provides the basis for metaphysics, that is, the study of the basic ontological categories by which we come to know what things are. Heidegger wrote that metaphysics is grounded in ‘the humanness of reason, i.e., its finitude.’ Metaphysical knowledge is, according to Heidegger, a direct consequence of our finitude, our inescapable mortality, rather than of our presumed ability to transcend that finitude, to reach, infinitely, for heaven. Because the finitude of our constructive power makes impossible a transcendent grasp of the thing-in-itself — leaving us to be only affected by it in its brute, independent existence — our attention is instead pushed away from the thing-in-itself and towards the constructive categories we must employ in order to make sense of it as a thing present-at-hand within-the-world. For Heidegger, metaphysics is nothing other than the study of these categories and their relations to one another. Orthodox metaphysics, in contrast, treats these existential categories as ontic, that is, as extant mental things referring to the intrinsic properties of the things we seek to know, rather than as ontological, that is, as the existential structures of being-in-the-world which enable us to know those things.

For Kant the problem of finitude springs from our failure to grasp things in terms of their own autonomous categories. These categories, the intrinsic properties of things, lie beyond the reach of our finite powers of construction. Not so for Kant’s absolute thinker. This divine subject possesses infinite powers of construction, and hence there is nothing which can exist beyond its reach, nothing which is autonomous and lonely. The absolute subject has no need for receptivity, because it absolutely affects things rather than being affected by them. It requires nothing to exist beyond itself, because when it creates, it does so like God, ex nihilo. On this reading, then, orthodox metaphysics lacks humility because it effaces the problem of finitude by seeking to grasp things absolutely. On such a view, the thing-in-itself is an affront to the infinite constructivity of an absolute subject. There is thus no room in orthodox metaphysics for the thing-in-itself. Heidegger argues that if this orthodoxy were to abandon its ‘presumption,’ by giving up its ‘pride’ and accepting the basic existential fact of its own finitude, indeed, if it were to recognise ontology as springing from the very essence of finitude, then metaphysics will have finally found its true meaning.45 According to him, ‘the struggle against the “thing in itself,”’ the origins of which he locates in German Idealism, springs from a failure to understand the way in which the ‘humanness of reason,’ that is, reason’s finitude, forms the essential core of Kant’s problematic.46

7. Putting the Bloor-Latour Debate to Rest

We saw earlier that Bloor attempts to preserve the common-sense impulse behind Kant’s version of the subject-object distinction, but he departs dramatically from Kant by naturalizing and socialising that distinction. Bloor’s reformulation of the distinction is compatible not only with the view that things exist independently of our knowledge of them, but also with the view that such things possess intrinsic properties existing independently of our knowledge of them. However, Bloor rejects the metaphysical claim that our descriptions of things, that is, our specification of their properties by applying concepts or categories to them, strictly correspond to the independent nature of those things. Indeed, Bloor has not endorsed the view that the thing-in-itself possesses intrinsic properties. His position is thus also compatible with the view that the thing-in-itself possesses no intrinsic properties at all. This view, like that of Heidegger, departs significantly from the Kantian position as described by Langton.

Bloor’s departure from Kant is, however, left somewhat unclear by the fact that he continues to refer to things as ‘objects’ without spelling out in sufficient detail how his use of this term differs from Kant’s original usage. Latour seizes on Bloor’s terminology and submits it to strong criticism. He dismisses Bloor’s use of the term ‘object,’ apparently without attempting to properly understand what Bloor means by that term. Indeed, he reads Bloor as having meant a Kantian substance possessed of intrinsic properties. Latour seems to reason that, if we are receptive to objects, then, since objects have intrinsic properties, we must also be receptive to those properties. Hence, making reference to the Millikan-Ehrenhaft controversy over the existence of the electron, Latour criticises Bloor for allegedly claiming that ‘electrons “themselves” are not allowed to cause our interpretations of them.’47 Now, as we saw earlier, Latour knows that Bloor grants electrons a necessary but insufficient causal role in the formation of our beliefs about them. Latour complains, however, that in this capacity ‘they don’t do very much.’48 Latour wants an account where electrons do more. Indeed, he appears to want an account where electrons possess intrinsic properties, and where those properties both necessarily and sufficiently determine our interpretations of them, an account, in short, where electrons make us know them as what they are. Only such an account could effectively short-circuit the underdetermination thesis central to the methodology of SSK.

By suggesting that electrons not only necessarily but also sufficiently determine our interpretations of them, Latour rolls back the symmetry principle introduced by Bloor, reintroducing an old and familiar asymmetry into explanations of the truth and falsity of scientific beliefs and descriptions. Scientific descriptions are true when they correspond to the independently existing properties of the things they describe. False scientific descriptions, in contrast, are false because they do not correspond to the independent properties of the things they describe. As is common with Latour’s rhetorical style, he obscures this regressive move behind the claim that he is extending the symmetry principle in a radically new way, by claiming to introduce ‘one more turn after the social turn.’49 But it seems that Latour has made not so much a critical advance on Bloor’s symmetry principle as he has an obfuscating retreat into a more orthodox position, albeit one wrapped up in unorthodox terminology. It is for this reason that Bloor, in step with Harry Collins and Steven Yearley, has argued that ‘something remarkably like direct or naive realism turns up in Latour’s methodology.’50 Yet, as I will argue shortly, this cannot be the full story.

In the meantime, it must be acknowledged that Latour’s criticism is motivated by a genuine, if misplaced, worry. In Latour’s view, Bloor appears to place the object on the side of receptivity and its intrinsic properties on the side of constructivity, and, on this basis, he rightly wonders how an object could be separated from its intrinsic properties in this way. Indeed, such a position may well not even be coherent. But this is not Bloor’s position, because he does not require what he calls ‘objects’ to have intrinsic properties. His is, admittedly, a rather unconventional use of the term ‘object,’ and so it is perhaps not surprising that Latour failed to properly understand it. According to Bloor’s usage, ‘object’ denotes an indeterminate material thing, one which exists independently of our beliefs about it, or involvements with it. It is the thing-in-itself, and our knowledge of its existence is a consequence of our receptive rather than our constructive relation to it. Hence, Bloor’s position does not require that objects possess intrinsic properties, and it is compatible with the claim that they do not. Indeed, as Latour’s criticism nicely brings out, Bloor’s position is best understood as requiring that the thing-in-itself does not possess any intrinsic properties at all. On this interpretation, Bloor is closer to Heidegger than to Kant. When Heidegger argues that we project objecthood in our understanding of things as objects, he means that our relation to objects is a constructive one. However, in contrast to Bloor, by ‘object’ Heidegger means a substance with intrinsic properties. This is the same meaning employed by Latour, and attributed to Kant by both Langton and Heidegger.

Heidegger’s criticism of Kant may help to throw further light on Latour’s own position. Indeed, despite being charged with naive realism, there is evidence suggesting that for Latour, too, our relation to objects is a constructive, or projective, one. This evidence is, however, obscured by the fact that Latour also espouses the view that our relation to objects is receptive rather than constructive. The root of the problem here may lie in Latour’s failure to properly distinguish between the that-being and the what-being of a thing, between a thing’s existence and its essence. An elision of these two aspects of the being of a thing may explain his disinclination, noted earlier, to distinguish between our constructive knowledge of nature and the nature we constructively know, or, put otherwise, between our interpretations of nature and the nature we interpret. This puts Latour into a similar camp to Joseph Rouse, whose practical hermeneutics was discussed in Chapter Two. If this diagnosis of the problem is correct, then it may help to resolve an apparent contradiction in Latour’s work. He has, for example, asserted that things, including those he calls ‘nonhumans,’ determine our interpretations of them, that our epistemic relation to them is a receptive one. Latour thus laments Bloor’s failure to allow the electron-nonhuman to play a sufficient role in determining the difference between Millikan’s and Ehrenhaft’s respective interpretations of their data. This looks like a strong stance in favour of a robust realism. And yet, Latour also argues that his ‘new active nonhumans are utterly different from the boring inactive things-in-themselves of the realist’s plot.’51 So he appears to also reject realism. We need to pull the various tangled threads apart in order to understand what is going on here.

On the basis of a number of Latour’s statements, it would be natural to interpret him as affirming the view that the things we call electrons causally determine the categories by which we now know them. This suggests that the electron is an independently existing substance with determinate properties, that we are receptive to those properties, and that those properties cause our knowledge of them. We encountered this interpretation in Chapter One, labelling it the ‘natural attitude’ which both SSK and existential phenomenology treat as a topic for investigation. Latour appears to adopt the natural attitude as a resource when he asserts that electrons cause our interpretations of them. This was the basis for his rejection of the underdetermination thesis. Yet consider, more fully now, what Latour writes in his characterisation of Bloor’s position: ‘electrons “themselves” are not allowed to cause our interpretations of them, no matter how much scientists engage in making them have a bearing, a causality, on what they (the scientists) say about them (the electrons).’52 This cannot be a straightforward description of scientists’ receptivity towards electrons. Although he argues, on the one hand, that electrons cause our interpretations of them, he also argues, on the other, that scientists make them exercise that causation. Electrons make us know them as what they are, because we make them make us know them thus. It looks, then, like Latour’s ‘new active nonhumans’ owe much of their activity to humans. Electrons do not, after all, sufficiently determine our interpretations of them. Our epistemic relation to them is not sufficiently determined by our receptivity towards them, but only by a combination of both receptivity and constructivity. Because Latour’s account does not eliminate constructivity, it does not threaten the underdetermination thesis.

On Latour’s account, we receive what we construct. Our interpretations are based on our reception of physical effects whose causal conditions we have played a necessary role in constructing. There appears to be no room here for an independently existing nature. In abandoning the ‘boring inactive things-in-themselves of the realist’s plot,’ Latour appears to have given up on realism entirely. As I argued in Chapter Two, this is the price paid for failing to recognise the distinction between the existence and essence of a thing. Like Rouse, Latour elides the construction of the essence of a thing with the construction of its existence. One may thus describe Latour’s position as a kind of ‘pragmatic idealism.’ Here the governing idea is that no thing can exist independently of our practical activities, both linguistic and otherwise. The independently existing thing-in-itself disappears in an endless cycle of interpretation, or what Latour has elsewhere called ‘circulating reference.’53 Latour’s rejection of independent existence thus seems to undermine Bloor, Collins, and Yearley’s suggestion that Latour is a naive realist. It would be more accurate to say that naive realism is expressed in Latour’s rhetoric, but that his methodology pushes him more towards idealism. The crucial point, for the present argument, is that Latour’s abandonment of realism pulls the rug out from under his argument against underdetermination. For once one allows that no thing can exist independently of our relations to it, one can no longer intelligibly assert that an independently existing thing can sufficiently determine our interpretations of it. Notwithstanding agile rhetorical performances to the contrary, one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too.54

One final point deserves mention before we finally lay the Bloor-Latour debate to rest. The fact that Latour treats electrons as thoroughly constructed things would seem to support my earlier observation that his position offends against the Kantian doctrine of humility. For Latour, there exists nothing about which we cannot have knowledge, because we know only what we make, and all existent things depend on our constructive power. Here, Latour may respond that we only partially construct things, and so we know them only partially. But this will not deflect the criticism. The core realist doctrine is that of independent existence. Even if the thing-in-itself is only partially the result of our constructive power, then it does not exist independently of that power, and hence it cannot provide the grounds for a genuinely realist position. There are no ‘lonely’ things in Latour’s ontology, nothing to mark the finite limits of our constructive power. Latour’s argument against social constructivism nicely demonstrates how, when minimal realism is rejected, then so too is epistemic humility. I have recommended minimal realism as a suitable position for science studies. It follows from this that a minimally realist science studies should also adopt an attitude of epistemic humility.

8. The Humility of Science Studies

If finitude is best met with an attitude of humility, then social constructivism should adopt an attitude of humility. Indeed, insofar as minimal realism presupposes the finitude of our indigenous constructive powers, this realism suggests a methodological commitment to humility. Resisting the temptation to believe that we can leap beyond the natural limits of our understanding is no small matter. As we saw in the case of Latour, metaphysically fuelled ambition may override humility and derail realism. But, as we also saw in Chapter One, even the more restrained SSK practitioners sometimes overstep the boundaries of their methodological commitments and thus threaten their realist credentials. David Bloor, for example, observes that the ways in which we conceptualise our experience will always involve a simplification of that experience, and infers from this that nature is enormously complex.55 This inference seems to presuppose that the enormous diversity of possible ways in which human beings come to understand their experience of nature must somehow correspond to the enormous complexity of nature itself. But this attribution of a specific, intrinsic property to nature — complexity — seems to contradict Bloor’s claim that our categories of understanding do not map onto nature itself in this way. The trouble here is that any claim to know nature in itself seems to violate epistemic finitude. We are finite knowers because we must be affected by nature in order to gain knowledge of it. But the concepts we apply in making sense of our experience are constructions projected onto nature rather than affections received from it. This goes too for the concept of complexity. It seems that the only attribution we may make with respect to nature itself is a purely privative one. Nature provides no ready-made categories by which we could know it, because it has no determinate properties of its own. Hence, it would seem more accurate to describe nature as incomprehensible rather than as enormously complex. The tremendously diverse ways in which we come to understand nature is not indicative of the inherent complexity of nature itself, but rather of the immense richness of our nevertheless finite constructive power. This point would appear to agree with Bloor’s comment that ‘[t]here is much that has been achieved with our finite and contingent resources.’56

Heidegger argues that autonomous things, things left to themselves, ‘lonely’ things, as Langton puts it, are ‘essentially devoid of any meaning at all.’57 From a phenomenological perspective, in an unconstructed experience of things we encounter those things as incomprehensible. We fail to make sense of them within the constructive field of finite interpretative possibilities available to us. What is more, Heidegger also suggests that things may directly assault and disrupt this constructive field of possibilities. In such cases, things are not just without meaning, but they also act against meaning, that is to say, against our ability to comprehend them. He writes, for example, that ‘natural events […] can break in upon us and destroy us.’58 This observation suggests that the things of nature may startle or shock us in a way which disrupts, or perhaps even destroys, our constructive power of understanding. In such moments, we are reduced to pure receptivity. Nature affects us we know not how.

Heidegger uses the German word Befindlichkeit to name our receptivity, our ability to be affected by an independently existing nature. Hence, Kant’s distinction between receptivity and constructivity may be viewed as resurfacing in Heidegger as a distinction between affectivity and constructivity. Befindlichkeit denotes the situation or state in which one finds oneself, as in ‘I found myself increasingly worried about the future’ or ‘I found myself suddenly cheered by the passing festivities.’ In Heidegger scholarship, the standard translation for Befindlichkeit is ‘state of mind,’ but Hubert Dreyfus has also translated it as ‘affectedness.’ I prefer to translate it as ‘affectivity.’59 Befindlichkeit derives from the reflexive verb sich befinden, which means ‘to be here’ or ‘to be located here.’ It thus has a tight connection with Heidegger’s word for the subject, Dasein, or ‘being here.’ Recall from Chapter One that, according to Heidegger, the subject always finds itself in the world; one of its fundamental existential features is being-in-the-world. As we also noted, in Chapter Two, Heidegger gives an equally fundamental role to being-with-others in his account of the subject. To already be in the world means to also already be together with other persons in that world. Being-in-the-world is, in other words, a fundamentally social phenomenon. In constructively understanding the entities — persons and things — with whom and alongside which it exists, the subject also already finds itself receptively oriented towards those entities. Hence, the affectivity of the subject is, for Heidegger, another fundamental aspect of its existence. Indeed, altogether Heidegger notes at least four basic existential elements of subjectivity: being-in-the-world; being-with-others; affectivity; and constructivity (or projective understanding).

Let us now consider the way in which worldly things may disrupt the subject’s constructive attempts to make sense of them. Following Heidegger on this point will help us to also better understand how his views relate to the notion of epistemic humility. One particular shape taken by affectivity, one specific state of mind, to which Heidegger gives considerable attention, is anxiety. Heidegger writes that ‘[t]hat in the face of which one is anxious is completely indefinite.’60 It is not, however, the indefiniteness of things themselves which causes our anxiety, but the indefiniteness of our existence as being-in-the-world. Heidegger suggests that it is in the face of our own indefinite existence that we feel anxious. Normally, we make sense of our own existence through our dealings with the things and persons with which and with whom we share our world. According to Heidegger, when those dealings break down, things ‘slip away’: ‘We can get no hold on things. In the slipping away of beings only this “no hold on things” comes over us and remains.’61 The idea seems to be that, in such situations, which Heidegger notes happen ‘rarely enough and only for a moment,’ our constructive power fails to get a hold on things and determine their meaning, which is to say, their essence or whatness.62 As a consequence, we lose our ability to give meaning to the world and to our place in it. In situations like these, our constructive power is deflected back from things, and our relation to those things thus becomes entirely determined by our receptivity towards them.63 Heidegger observes that, in this forcing back of our understanding, things suddenly reveal themselves as strange and ‘radically other.’64

This returns us to the claim made by Joseph Fell, discussed in Chapter Two, that Heidegger uses the term ‘present-at-hand’ in a handful of distinct ways. In particular, we saw that Heidegger uses ‘present-at-hand’ not just to denote a thing which has been thematised as an object, but also a thing which has suddenly become ‘unhandy’ through a local breakdown in a global context of practical involvements which have otherwise remained undisturbed. As Fell writes, ‘this is the experience of a presentness at hand that was already there but which in my practical preoccupation I was simply not attending to.’65 Yet Fell also argues that the term ‘present-at-hand’ may refer to things in cases where there is a global breakdown of the significance relations which give meaning to things in the world.66 In such cases, the subject finds itself in a state of anxiety before the unintelligibility of that world, an anxiety which reveals the brute contingency of the categories it normally takes for granted when making sense of both things and other people. These things now lose their taken-for-granted meaning, becoming strange. I would like to suggest that this strange and alien thing is the thing-in-itself as construed by Heidegger. As such, it marks the epistemic limit of our constructive power, and hence of our ability to make sense of, much less to know, nature. The thing-in-itself thus marks the boundaries of our finitude, and hence moves us towards humility. A breakdown in intelligibility, especially at the global level, thus reveals the sheer contingency of our categories of understanding. They no longer fix themselves onto things, but are instead driven back from them, an event which disrupts our ability to make sense of nature, which unsettles our taken-for-granted assumptions about what nature in itself is, and which may be experienced as a state of anxiety. In the last but one section, we saw that Heidegger describes transcendence as the surpassing of an independently existing nature. We can now add that, for Heidegger, our recognition of this transcendence, for example, our recognition that the objecthood of a thing is not intrinsic to it but something we project onto it, may be accompanied by a feeling of anxiety. The anxiety which may follow on our realisation of the contingency of the categories by which we make sense of the world is an affective recognition of our epistemic finitude, and hence a reason for humility.

The main point to draw out of this is that the notion of the thing-in-itself is not, for Heidegger, a merely theoretical one. It is also the notion of a thing alongside which we live in the world, a thing which we may, if only rarely and momentarily, experience in its bare existence when our customary patterns of sense-making are momentarily disturbed, or, more dramatically, when we find ourselves in a state of global existential disturbance. If Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis of anxiety is correct, then it would seem to lend some empirical weight to the notion of the thing-in-itself as lacking intrinsic properties of its own, and hence also to the more general notion of a nature which exists independently of the categories we normally use to understand it.

In fact, there is clinical evidence suggesting that Heidegger’s analysis of anxiety offers a credible description of a genuine human experience which may, in some rare cases, become pathological. Russell Nieli, for example, argues that Heidegger is describing a radical kind of alienation experience, falling under the psychiatric labels of ‘derealization’ and ‘depersonalization,’ which attracted the attention of psychiatrists and psychologist around the turn of the last century.67 As illustrations of this kind of experience, he cites representative patients’ statements from William James’s 1890 book, The Principles of Psychology — ‘I looked about me with terror and astonishment: the world was escaping from me’ — and Karl Jaspers’s 1913 study, General Psychopathology — ‘All objects appear so new and startling, I say their names over to myself and touch them several times to convince myself they are real.’68

For Heidegger, such unsettling experiences of the world or of objects are experiences of our own existence, because the meaning of things is a product of our constructive power, and the world, as we saw in Chapter One, is internally related to our existence as being-in-the-world. Hence, Heidegger wrote that, with the alienation experienced in anxiety, ‘[b]eing-in enters into the existential “mode” of the “not-at-home [das Un-zuhause],”’ and, more to the point, that ‘[i]n anxiety one feels “uncanny” [unheimlich].’69 This recalls Sigmund Freud’s 1919 essay, ‘The “Uncanny,”’ where he wrote that ‘[t]he German word “unheimlich” is obviously the opposite of “heimlich” [“homely”], “heimisch” [“native”] — the opposite of what is familiar […]. The better orientated in his environment a person is, the less readily will he get the impression of something uncanny in regard to the objects and events in it.’70 Anxiety, then, is an affective state in which we experience the things around us as slipping free from the taken-for-granted categories by which we, in the normal course of life, constructively make sense of them. By marking the limit of our constructive power, anxiety brings us face-to-face with our own inherent finitude.

More recently, the American Psychiatric Association, while tacitly invoking an ontology rejected by Heidegger, has described derealisation as ‘the sense that the external world is strange or unreal,’ and they designate it as a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).71 The Heidegger-influenced psychiatrist Patrick Bracken, in turn, argues that traumatic experiences may lead to ‘ruptured meanings’ which signal the disintegration of one’s world: ‘The experience of very frightening events can have the effect of shattering any sense of living in an orderly world that has inherent structures of meaning and order.’72 Global manifestations of this phenomenon have been noted especially among combat veterans. Russian psychologist Madrudin Magomed-Eminov writes that veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan suffered a ‘loss of meaning to life’ precipitating a general ‘existential crisis.’73 Bracken, for his part, cites part of the following passage from US Vietnam War veteran Tim O’Brien’s 1990 short story collection The Things They Carried.74 O’Brien writes that ‘war has the feel — the spiritual texture — of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent.’ He continues:

There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding; the old truths are no longer true. Right spills into wrong. Order blends into chaos, love into hate, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery. The vapor sucks you in. You can’t tell where you are, or why you’re there, and the only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity. […] In war you lose your sense of the definite […].75

Similar experiences were common among soldiers during the First World War (1914–1918). According to the German Army Medical Service, 613,047 German soldiers were treated during the war for ‘diseases of the nervous system.’76 In the decade following the war, the continued suffering of traumatised veterans became an issue dominating national debate. The affected veterans were overwhelmingly from the lower economic strata, and they saw themselves increasingly medicalised and blamed for their condition.77 Pressured from the right, the government’s labour ministry gradually cut pensions and health care to psychologically disabled veterans, causing widespread resentment.78 It would be extraordinary if Heidegger had been unaffected by these events, during which period he was developing his existential account of anxiety. I do not mean to suggest that he deliberately shaped his account in response to these events, but that these events may have provided the social conditions in which anxiety could emerge as a compelling resource in the development of his phenomenology of human existence and his views on the independent existence of nature. I know of no evidence that Heidegger, who was himself exempted from combat duty on medical grounds, sympathised with the plight of the traumatised veterans, and, as Michael Zimmerman has shown, there are reasons to think that he emphatically did not.79 Nevertheless, in Heidegger’s hands, anxiety was stripped of its psychiatric meaning and reconceptualised as an existential relation to an independent nature which slips free from the categories by which we attempt to make sense of it.

The social psychologist, James Averill, describes emotions in general as social constructions, and he suggests that they are thus a legitimate topic for the sociology of knowledge. Specifically, Averill argues that most standard emotions are ‘institutionalized patterns of response,’ which presuppose ‘highly structured cognitive systems.’80 He contrasts these standardised emotional responses to the responses symptomatic of anxiety, of which a cardinal feature is ‘cognitive disintegration.’ From the viewpoint of SSK, however, Averill has the relation between cognitive order and institutional order backwards. As Bracken rightly argues, it would, in fact, be better to say that highly structured cognitive systems presuppose institutionalised patterns of emotional response. Hence, when there is a significant disturbance in these institutionalised patterns, the result may be the kind of cognitive disintegration marked by a feeling of anxiety. A broken mind does not result in a broken world. The causal relation runs the other way around.

Heidegger viewed anxiety as a characteristic emotional response to disruptions in the coherence relations which normally obtain between ourselves and the things and persons with which and with whom we inhabit and share a world. This disturbance correlates with a breakdown in the constructive power by which we make sense of that world. When that failure is catastrophic, this power loses its grip on things in general and is thrown back onto itself. The result is a global breakdown in meaning, an experience wherein we encounter things-in-themselves in what Heidegger called their ‘empty mercilessness.’81 I have argued that Heidegger’s phenomenological description of such failures of meaning, his description of anxiety, offers a potential account of the way in which we may experience nature as existing independently of the categories by which we normally come to know and productively interact with it. On this account, anxiety emerges as a direct consequence of our epistemic finitude; it is the unsettling realisation that the basic categories structuring our understanding of nature do not pick out anything intrinsic to nature itself. Anxiety is the state in which we find ourselves when confronted with the existential fact of our finitude. The appropriate response to this inescapable existential fact is to adopt an attitude of epistemic humility.

9. Conclusion

In this chapter, I have argued that the minimal realism proposed in Chapter Two presupposes the finitude of human reason. That an independent nature always exists beyond the reach of our constructive power, that nature itself must always slip free from all attempts to determine its intrinsic properties, is a basic presupposition motivating the core realist doctrine that things exist independently of any practical and theoretical interactions we may have with them. I have furthermore suggested that recognition of our own inherent limitations vis-à-vis knowledge of nature is best met with an attitude of epistemic humility.

This argument was played out in the context of the well-known debate between David Bloor and Bruno Latour. I have presented the disagreement between Bloor and Latour as a debate over the appropriate attitude science studies should take towards the Kantian thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself stands for the independent existence of nature. Latour dismisses the thing-in-itself as irrelevant to explanations of scientific knowledge. Bloor, by contrast, consequentially modifies Kant’s original concept, replacing Kant’s transcendental and individualistic formulation with a naturalistic and sociological one. As a consequence, Latour’s attempt to dismiss Bloor’s social constructivism as being in hock to the Kantian notion of the thing-in-itself, with all of its incumbent difficulties, largely fails. Bloor’s treatment of the thing-in-itself is naturalistic and causal, and, as such, it is compatible with minimal realism. I have furthermore argued that Latour, for all his rhetorical affirmations of realism, is most coherently read as methodologically committed to a position of pragmatic idealism: things are constructed and only exist within fields of practice. On Latour’s account, minimal realism evaporates along with the independently existing thing-in-itself entailed by such realism.

According to Rae Langton, Kant introduced the notion of the thing-in-itself in recognition of the finitude of human knowledge. Because our knowledge is finite, nature will always exist independently of our attempts to know it. Langton suggests that this finitude provides good grounds for adopting an attitude of epistemic humility. I have developed an account of epistemic humility through a discussion of Heidegger’s own appropriation of Kant’s notion of the thing-in-itself. Heidegger reconstrues the thing-in-itself in terms of an independently existing and indeterminate nature which may, on occasion, deflect our attempts to determine what it is according to our own indigenous constructive powers. Heidegger’s treatment of Kant, I have suggested, is compatible with that of Bloor. This treatment also reveals the way in which Latour’s rejection of the thing-in-itself fits together with his enthusiasm for an unrestrained constructivism which oversteps finitude, and so undercuts humility, in its denial of an independently existing nature. This failure of humility is, perhaps, most strongly exemplified in Latour’s conviction that he has successfully abandoned the subject-object distinction and ‘headed off in a different direction.’82 But this distinction is not like a suitcase to be dropped off at the hotel before one dashes out to see the sights of a new and exciting city. Neither is it just a few words to be summarily excised from language. It is a structure in our thinking which has developed over centuries and with which we must live as a part of our cultural inheritance. This is our condition as finite, historical, and social beings. The only way to gain a free relation to the subject-object distinction, and the broader existential and conceptual structures which sustain it, is to trace the historical threads which weave it into the taken-for-granted patterns of our thinking. As we will see in Chapter Four, this was a task towards which Heidegger put much effort.


1 David Bloor (1991 [1976]), Knowledge and Social Imagery, 2nd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 165.

2 Barry Barnes (1982), T. S. Kuhn and Social Science (London: Macmillan), p. 30.

3 David Bloor (1983), Wittgenstein: A Social Theory of Knowledge (London: Macmillan), p. 20.

4 Rae Langton (1998), Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves (Oxford: Clarendon Press), p. 12.

5 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 19.

6 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 13.

7 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 45.

8 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 29.

9 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 31.

10 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 32.

11 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 19.

12 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 32; cf. Immanuel Kant (1998 [1781/1787]), Critique of Pure Reason, ed. and trans. by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 374 (A274/B330).

13 Langton (1998), Kantian Humility, p. 32; cf. Kant (1998), Critique of Pure Reason, p. 348 (A250).

14 Bruno Latour (1992), ‘One More Turn after the Social Turn…,’ in The Social Dimensions of Science, ed. by Ernan McMullin (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press), pp. 272–94.

15 Bloor (1991), Knowledge and Social Imagery, p. 7.

16 Latour (1992), ‘One More Turn after the Social Turn…,’ p. 278.

17 Latour (1992), ‘One More Turn after the Social Turn…,’ p. 278.

18 Latour (1992), ‘One More Turn after the Social Turn…,’ p. 277.

19 Olga Amsterdamska had early on identified and criticised Latour’s tendency to elide descriptions of nature with the nature being described (Olga Amsterdamska (1990), ‘Surely You Are Joking, Monsieur Latour!’ Science, Technology, and Human Values 15(4), 495–504).

20 David Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 30(1), 81–112 (p. 106).

21 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 107.

22 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 86.

23 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 86.

24 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 106–07.

25 For recent work on this topic, see: Michael Tomasello (2014), A Natural History of Human Thinking (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), especially chpt. 4, ‘Collective Intentionality’; and Kim Sterelny (2012), ‘Language, Gesture, Skill: The Co-Evolutionary Foundations of Language,’ in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 367, 2141–51. My thanks to Andrew Buskell for bringing this literature to my attention.

26 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 91.

27 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 93.

28 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 93.

29 Bruno Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor  and Beyond: A Reply to David Bloor’s “Anti-Latour,”’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 30(1), 113–29 (p. 117).

30 Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor … and Beyond,’ p. 119.

31 David Bloor (1999b), ‘Reply to Bruno Latour,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 30(1), 131–36, p. 134.

32 Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor … and Beyond,’ p. 117.

33 Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor … and Beyond,’ p. 118. Bloor’s electron passage has also attracted strong criticism from the philosophers of science Tim Lewens and Nick Tosh, though for different reasons (Tim Lewens (2005), ‘Realism and the Strong Program,’ British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 56(3), 559–77; Nick Tosh (2007), ‘Science, Truth and History, Part II. Metaphysical Bolt-holes for the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge?,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 38(1), 185–209). I elsewhere defend Bloor against these particular criticisms (Jeff Kochan (2010a), ‘Contrastive Explanation and the “Strong Programme” in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge,’ Social Studies of Science 40(1), 127–44). Martin Kusch offers a critical, if not always accurate, overview of this dispute (Martin Kusch (2018), ‘Scientific Realism and Social Epistemology,’ in Routledge Handbook of Scientific Realism, ed. by Juha Saatsi (London: Routledge), pp. 261–275).

34 Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor … and Beyond,’ p. 127.

35 Bloor (1999b), ‘Reply to Bruno Latour,’ p. 134.

36 Bloor (1999b), ‘Reply to Bruno Latour,’ p. 134.

37 Heidegger argues that Kant uncritically adopted his ontology of the subject from Descartes. Hence, Kant ‘failed to provide an ontology with Dasein as its theme or (to put this in Kantian language) to give a preliminary ontological analytic of the subjectivity of the subject’ (Martin Heidegger (1962a [1927]), Being and Time, trans. by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 45 [24]; following scholarly convention, page numbers in square brackets refer to the original 1927 German edition of Being and Time). In the same period, Heidegger also comments that ‘Kant is still working with a very crude psychology’ (Martin Heidegger (1982a [1975]), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. by Albert Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 50).

38 Martin Heidegger (1984a [1978]), The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, trans. by Michael Heim (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 164.

39 Martin Heidegger, Martin (1997 [1929]), Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 5th edn, enlarged, trans. by Richard Taft (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), p. 22; Heidegger (1984a), The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, p. 164.

40 Heidegger (1997), Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, p. 22; translation modified, brackets original. For the marginal note, see Heidegger (1997), Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, p. 22 n. 1.

41 Heidegger (1984a), The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, p. 166; translation modified.

42 Heidegger (1984a), The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, p. 165 n. 9.

43 Heidegger (1997), Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, p. 163.

44 Heidegger (1982a), Basic Problems of Phenomenology, p. 157; translation modified.

45 Heidegger (1997), Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, p. 88.

46 Heidegger (1997), Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, pp. 171, 15.

47 Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor … and Beyond,’ p. 119.

48 Latour (1999a), ‘For David Bloor … and Beyond,’ p. 117.

49 Elsewhere, I characterise Latour’s rhetorical strategy as one of dissimulation (Jeff Kochan (2010b), ‘Latour’s Heidegger,’ Social Studies of Science 40(4), 579–98). In still another place, I call (tongue in cheek) for yet one more turn after the Latourian turn, a turn which delivers us to the position being outlined here (Jeff Kochan (2015b), ‘Putting a Spin on Circulating Reference, or How to Rediscover the Scientific Subject,’ Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 49, 103–07).

50 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 94. Cf. similar criticisms of Latour in 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.

51 Latour (1992), ‘One More Turn after the Social Turn…,’ p. 284.

52 Latour (1992), ‘One More Turn after the Social Turn…,’ p. 119.

53 Bruno Latour (1999b), Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 24. For a critique of Latour on ‘circulating reference,’ which also addresses his rejection of Kantian epistemology, see Kochan (2015b), ‘Putting a Spin on Circulating Reference.’

54 One can, however, have one’s cake at one moment, and then eat it at another. In 1987, Latour described science as ‘two-faced’: on the one side, ‘science in the making,’ on the other, ‘made science.’ In a controversy, scientists speak a constructivist language, but, once the controversy has been settled, they speak a realist language. There is no contradiction, because the respective contexts of the languages are different (Bruno Latour (1987), Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 4). Fifteen years later, Latour claimed to be justified in speaking both languages, but he also seemed to elide the contextual difference between them (Bruno Latour (2002), ‘The Science Wars: A Dialogue,’ Common Knowledge 8(1), 71–79 (p. 77)). The Millikan-Ehrenhaft controversy is a case of science in the making, and so one would expect Latour to use a constructivist language when referring to it. Indeed, although he may have found it rhetorically expedient to also use realist language in debating this case with Bloor, the inertia of his own established methodology, and the logical weight of his own earlier distinction between the two contexts, ultimately returns him to a constructivist language.

55 Bloor (1999a), ‘Anti-Latour,’ p. 90.

56 David Bloor (2007), ‘Epistemic Grace: Antirelativism as Theology in Disguise,’ Common Knowledge 13(2–3), 250–80 (p. 250).

57 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 193 [152].

58 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 193 [152].

59 Hubert L. Dreyfus (1991b), Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), chpt. 10. ‘Affectivity’ better captures the connotation of activity in Befindlichkeit.

60 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 231 [186].

61 Martin Heidegger (1993a [1978]), ‘What Is Metaphysics?,’ trans. by David Farrell Krell, in Basic Writings, revised and expanded edn, by Martin Heidegger, ed. by David Farrell Krell (New York: HarperCollins), pp. 93–110 (p. 100).

62 Heidegger (1993a), ‘What Is Metaphysics?,’ p. 100.

63 Cf. Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 232 [187].

64 Heidegger (1993a), ‘What Is Metaphysics?,’ p. 103.

65 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 (p. 31).

66 Fell (1989), ‘The Familiar and the Strange,’ p. 30.

67 Russell Nieli (1987), Wittgenstein: From Mysticism to Ordinary Language (Albany: SUNY Press), p. 17.

68 Nieli (1987), Wittgenstein, p. 24.

69 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 233 [188–89].

70 Sigmund Freud (1985), ‘The “Uncanny,”’ in Art and Literature, vol. 14 of The Penguin Freud Library, ed. by Albert Dickson (London: Penguin Books), pp. 339–76 (p. 341).

71 DSM-IV-TR (2000), Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edn, text revision (Arlington: American Psychiatric Association), p. 530.

72 Patrick J. Bracken (2002), Trauma: Culture, Meaning and Philosophy (London: Whurr), pp. 147, 142.

73 Magomed-Eminov (1997), ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders as a Loss of the Meaning of Life,’ in States of Mind: American and Post-Soviet Perspectives on Contemporary Issues in Psychology, ed. by Diane F. Halpern and Alexander E. Voiskounsky (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 238–50 (p. 239).

74 Bracken (2002), Trauma, p. 142.

75 Tim O’Brien (1990), The Things They Carried (New York: Broadway Books), p. 88.

76 Doris Kaufman (1999), ‘Science as Cultural Practice: Psychiatry in the First World War and Weimar Germany,’ Journal of Contemporary History 34(1), 125–44 (p. 125).

77 George L. Mosse (2000), ‘Shell-Shock as a Social Disease,’ Journal of Contemporary History 35(1), 101–08 (pp. 103–04).

78 Jason Crouthamel (2002), ‘War Neurosis versus Saving Psychosis: Working-Class Politics and Psychological Trauma in Weimar Germany,’ Journal of Contemporary History 37(2), 163–82 (p. 165).

79 Michael Zimmerman discusses the influence exercised on Heidegger by the popular writings of the war enthusiast and decorated combatant Ernst Jünger (Michael E. Zimmerman (1990), Heidegger’s Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, Politics, Art (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press), pp. 66–76). Even Jünger’s celebrated steely nerves had their limits, however. Recounting one battlefield experience, he writes: ‘after a moment’s blank horror I took to my heels like the rest and ran aimlessly into the night.’ Later, ‘I threw myself on the ground and broke into convulsive sobs’ (Ernst Jünger (1929), The Storm of Steel, trans. by Basil Creighton (London: Chatto & Windus), pp. 245, 246). Those whose front-line combat experience is merely vicarious have the privilege of celebrating the heroics and ignoring the horrors.

80 James R. Averill (1980a), ‘Emotion and Anxiety: Sociocultural, Biological, and Psychological Determinates,’ in Explaining Emotions, ed. by Amélie O. Rorty (Berkley: University of California Press), pp. 37–72 (p. 68); see also James R. Averill (1980b), ‘A Constructivist View of Emotion,’ in Theories of Emotion, ed. by Robert Plutchik and Henry Kellerman (New York: Academic Press), pp. 305–39.

81 Heidegger (1962a), Being and Time, p. 393 [343].

82 Latour (1999b), Pandora’s Hope, p. 295.