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Chemistry beyond positivism.

Authors
Type
Published Article
Journal
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
Volume
988
Pages
335–344
Identifiers
PMID: 12796119
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

Chemistry is often thought to be quite factual, and therefore might be considered close to the "positivist" ideal of a value-free science. A closer look, however, reveals that the field is coupled to the invisible realm of values, meanings, and purpose in various ways, and chemists interact with that realm loosely and unevenly. Tacit knowledge is one important locus of such interactions. We are concerned in this essay with two questions. What is the nature of the knowledge when we are in the early stages of discovery? and In what ways does the hidden reality we are seeking affect our search for an understanding of it? The first question is partly answered by Polanyi's theory of tacit knowledge, while the second one leads us to realize the limitations of our language when discussing "reality"-or certain chemical experimental results. A strictly positivist approach is of little use, but so is the opposite, the complete disregard of facts. The contrast between positivism and non-formulable aspects of scientific reasoning amounts to a paradox that needs to be analyzed and can lead to a "connected" chemistry. This in turn resembles networks described by Schweber and is more concerned than the chemistry "as it is" with aspects such as the image of chemistry, the challenges chemists face as citizens, and chemistry in liberal education.

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