What knowledges lie within reach? Does there exist a singular truth? Or does each hold true to their own? The principles of knowledge: Setting rational standards and clarifying irrational beliefs.
Barry Barnes and David Bloor (hereafter: B&B) argue in their text Relativism, Rationalism, Sociology of Knowledge, that the rationalist’s arguments are insufficient and cannot withstand the grounds of relativism.11 Implicated in the text is the indispensability of relativism in order to understand scientific knowledge. B&B specify a need to establish basic principles of knowledge, rather than employing a relativist approach to truth alone.
In the interest of determining principles of truth, B&B emphasize the significance of the equivalence postulate, stating: “Our equivalence postulate is that all beliefs are on a par with one another with respect to the causes of their credibility.” 2
Determining scientific knowledge requires a symmetrical approach. In order to do so, any conviction of any given person must be treated with equal importance. The roots of certain convictions must be deduced by means of empirical inquiry. Are we assessing sociological evaluations that are truthful and rational, or are they false and irrational? The scientist must investigate the root causes of these convictions.
Outdated scientific opinions can be explained sociologically—i.e. why a certain group might maintain an erroneous historical narrative on thunderstorms and the gods of the weater—and generally agreed upon. However, when sociological explanations are deployed against a (yet) prevailing conviction, they will hastily be dismissed with fact-based clarifications. Sociological explanations thus appear sufficient to counter false or irrational opinions; against accurate and rational convictions however, they fall short.
The reasons for a conviction are distinguished from the causes for a conviction; they stand apart as separate issues. 3 Generally accepted principles are deployed to rationalise
According to B&B, rational convictions that
And I although I relate to this position I can’t let go of the
In my opinion, a monistic approach to explaining convictions is
Rationalists argue that we must rely on reason in determining methodological rules for scientific research. But even if we were to distance ourselves from our cultural heritage in favour of setting scientific standards, science itself can never serve as a representation of reality. Science constructs its own reality in the form of a paradigm. The search for universal objective truth, therefore, seems futile; what one observes is wholly contingent on one’s prior knowledge and personal worldview, 5 and we are, after all, not able to detach ourselves from either. The veracity of knowledge does not take up residence in dogmatism, yet neither does it dwell within subjective relativism.
In science, it is not a question of passing judgement on the convictions of others, but rather a question of understanding why certain convictions are credible to the people that maintain them. It is therefore of lesser importance to obtain insight into the world itself than it is to understand the ways in which we experience and think the world.6 Perhaps then it becomes possible to unearth those universal principles that are culturally overarching. In doing so, we can set rational standards, and clarify (!) irrational convictions.