1Priggish points

August 6, 1999

Jon Turney, reviewing books by Susan Haack and Sandra Harding, opines that "their disagreements are real, but they have more in common than either is inclined to admit" (Books, THES, July 9). Of putative common grounds, the first mentioned is that Haack and Harding are "committed to the academic enterprise". Since Turney, at University College in science and technology studies, is himself so committed, as are all belligerents in the so-called science wars, this is irrelevant.

The core argument, however, is that while Haack's philosophy of science (which is a philosophy of inquiry, not just of science) allows the possibilities of objectivity and universality, and therefore of truth, Harding's, well, "frankly, it is hard to tell", the reviewer declares. But qualified commentators on the "standpoint epistemology" of Harding and other multiculturalists find it easy to tell. The claim is that there is no such thing as objective inquiry, no knowledge - only "knowledges", hence that "truth" is relative only to the community.

Turney's review misses the central point of Haack's much-honoured work in epistemology. It is the commonsense one that mixing politics with inquiry, or with feminism, is bad feminism and worse science; that politics should as much as possible be kept out of inquiry. Harding's point is that politics are inextricable from feminism and science, and very good for both - if the politics are "emancipatory". Only an adept of the favoured kind of science studies, convinced to the marrow that "science is social", could find these two on common ground.

P. R. Gross, Boston, Massachusetts

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