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Science, labor and scientific progress

Borg, George (2020) Science, labor and scientific progress. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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My dissertation introduces a new materialist theory of scientific progress built on a novel characterization of scientific work and an analysis of progress appropriate to it. Two questions, crucial for understanding scientific progress, are answered:
a. Why is it possible for scientists at a given time to have more epistemic abilities than scientists at an earlier time?
b. How can knowledge acquired in the past be used in on-going or future research?
I argue that these questions are best answered by analyzing science as a form of labor. The elements of the labor process, involving both intellectual and material means, provide a starting-point for the systematic study of how scientific abilities evolve.
As a unit of analysis, the labor process exposes features of the dynamics of knowledge accumulation that traditional analyses do not. I analyze historical cases from chemistry and the Scientific Revolution, attending carefully to how scientific work is conducted and conceived. First, I argue that scientific progress consists not just in the growth of theoretical or empirical knowledge, as in traditional philosophy of science, but also in the growth of know-how. The tools of science play a crucial role in determining the abilities scientists can and must have to do science. Tools also determine how scientists’ abilities change over time, by enabling, but also constraining, the incorporation of knowledge into the labor process. I argue that an extremely important mechanism of progress in science consists of a feedback loop between the production of new knowledge and instrument construction. This process requires the integration, and transformation into material form, of different kinds of knowledge. As the process is repeated over the long term, scientific work is transformed because it becomes less dependent on native human epistemic abilities.
Second, the evolution of scientific abilities depends on ambient ideological conditions: Social attitudes towards different kinds of work are critical, as are notions about the proper object of science.
What results is a picture of scientific change involving the interactions of different kinds of knowledge and in which internal and external factors, as well as instrumental rationality, play a significant role.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Borg, Georgegeb43@pitt.edugeb43
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairDietrich, Michaelmdietrich@pitt.edumdietrich
Committee CoChairNorton, Johnjdnorton@pitt.edujdnorton
Committee MemberPalmieri, Paolopap7@pitt.edupap7
Committee MemberZollman, Kevinkzollman@pitt.edun/a
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 June 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 25 June 2020
Access Restriction: 1 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 1 year.
Number of Pages: 385
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: science, labor, progress, chemistry, Scientific Revolution, technology
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 13:31
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2021 18:19


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