|Barry Barnes, Scientific Knowledgeand Sociological Theory (1974)|
For most people, the beliefs they accept...are rarely reflected upon. Moreover, when reflection does occur, it tends merely depict these beliefs as natural representations of 'how things are' (1) Indeed, there is an obvious rightness about our own world view. It seems, in some way, to mirror reality so straightforwardly that it must be the consequence of direct apprehension rather than effort and imagination (2) Common sense theories of the incidence of beliefs involve the actor treating his own as in need of no explanation and the varying beliefs of others as intelligible in terms of pathologies and biasing factors (2)2. Barnes attributes no-cause view to academics:
Many academic theories about beliefs...are closely related to this common sense approach. Typically, they divide beliefs about nature into ‘true’ and ‘false’ categories, treating the former as unproblematic in the sense that they derive directly from awareness of reality, whereas the latter must be accounted for by biasing and distorting factors (2-3) ...this particular perspective [ie. the academic theories just mentioned], treating truth as unproblematic and falsehood as needing causal explanation... (3) [Sociologist Talcott Parsons] regards the empirical claims of ideologies as in need of explanation in so far as they deviate from what is valid (3) [According to these academic theories] [t]he causal explanation of beliefs correlates with distortion or inadequacy, and hence operates as an implicit condemnation. Beliefs which are valued, for whatever reason, are spared a deterministic account (4)3. Barnes appears to withdraw the no-cause charge and replace it with the some-causes-only charge:
It should be noted at this point that it is only causal elucidation by reference to bias, or interference with normal faculties of reason and cognition, which is held [by laypeople and academics] to be inapplicable to true beliefs. Other kinds of causal account remain possible (4) [Barnes then discusses one such account, due to the sociologist Robert Merton, and attributes to Merton the belief that] truth, or at least an increase in the truth content of beliefs, does follow from the unhampered operation of reason, from proceeding rationally (4)4. After appearing to withdraw the no-cause charge, Barnes continues to make it, sometimes in the same breath as the some-causes-only charge. In square brackets I have indicated phrases that suggest one or other of these charges, with question-marks to indicate borderline cases.
The idea of truth as a normal, straightforward [no-cause] product of human experience...[has] been of considerable importance in academic work (5) Another consequence of these ideas is that the existence and distribution of scientific beliefs is readily explained; essentially, they are believed because they are true [no-cause]; people will tend to accept them wherever human cognition and reason are unconstrained [some-causes-only] (6) What matters [in much history of science] is that Newton's beliefs, or those of some other hero, are 'right' and not in need of causal explanations [no-cause], whereas other beliefs linked with the same evidence are 'wrong', even though Newton's beliefs are not accepted as final today. Science is conceived as a uniquely rational process [some-causes-only] leading to present truth; that which can be set on a teleologically conceived sequence leading to the present is assumed to be naturally reasonable and not in need of causal explanation [no-cause] (7) [For example] Suppose a philosopher gives an account of how true and reasonable beliefs arise by citing (say) sensory inputs, memory, induction, and deduction [some-causes-only] (7) Here, then, is what has been a very common way of understanding beliefs. We have one world, with a wide range of conflicting beliefs about it; this is intelligible in terms of one set of true [no-cause], or uniquely reasonable, beliefs, and a wide range of causes [no-cause?] of error and distortion (7) [In sociology] [it] is no longer possible to treat 'truth' [no-cause], or 'naturally reasonable inductions' [some-causes-only?], as unproblematic baselines for explanations, and all other beliefs about nature as distortions in need of causal explanation [no-cause] (11). [Sociologists of science] have tended to talk of scientific knowledge as 'consonant with experience' or 'in accord with the facts' [no-cause?], as though this completely accounted for its acceptance within science, established its validity and excused it from causal explanation [no-cause] (12).Expand post.