From "Phony Science Wars", The Atlantic, 1999:
"These alternating intuitions have been in play ever since Protagoras said "Man is the measure of all things" and Plato rejoined that the measure must instead be something nonhuman, unchanging, and capitalized -- something like The Good, or The Will of God, or The Intrinsic Nature of Physical Reality. Scientists who, like Steven Weinberg, have no doubt that reality has an eternal, unchanging, intrinsic structure which natural science will eventually discover are the heirs of Plato. Philosophers like Kuhn, Latour, and Hacking think that Protagoras had a point, and that the argument is not yet over.
The most vocal and inflamed participants in the so-called science wars are treating the latest version of this fine old philosophical controversy as a big deal. In the very long run, perhaps, it will prove to be one. Maybe someday the idea of human beings answering to an independent authority called How Things Are in Themselves will be obsolete. In a thoroughly de-Platonized, fully Protagorean culture the only answerability human beings would recognize would be to one another. It would never occur to them that "the objective" could mean more than "the agreed-upon upshot of argument." In such a culture we would have as little use for the idea of the intrinsic structure of physical reality as for that of the will of God. We would view both as unfortunate and obsolete social constructions.
But there is no hurry, no urgent need to bring this perpetual seesaw to rest. Scientists who agree with Kuhn are not about to do anything very different from what their colleagues who agree with Weinberg do. Their disagreements come up only in after-hours chat, not during the daily grind in the lab. Analogously, politicians who think that human rights are somehow built into the ahistorical structure of the human soul usually propose the same policies as those who think that human rights are an admirable recent invention. In the short term, philosophical differences just do not matter that much. In neither science nor politics is philosophical correctness, any more than theological correctness, a requirement for useful work."
Food For Thought
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