Turner’s philosophy of legitimacy is difficult to pin down though I offer a critique of Weber use of it as shown by Turner. One of the problems of legitimacy is where do we locate it? Who has the power to determine what is legitimate or not? Where does legitimacy begin? Turner argues that:

“any transcendental claim of the objective conceptual necessity of valuative presuppositions, such as the concept legality or justice in the study of law, disappears because there is an alternative. The alternative of a sociological system of categories which is a classification of valuative presuppositions rather than another scheme of valuative presuppositions: this is the general form of the social science case against normativism: it treats such things as meanings and values or beliefs about, in this case, the law and the state, as the things to be explained, and thus avoids the claim that the legal descriptions are privileged or uniquely valid” (71-2).

The alternative to which can always be called is the beginnings of the regress in which justice is defined relativistically in the framework of non-normative social science. Turner describes how non-normative social science avoids difficult questions about the validity or justness of the state or beliefs as uniquely valid by excusing question of legality into questions about the concept of flexible legitimacy. Every potential social interaction is legitimate in that it is based on the particularity of the epistemic regime which produces the interaction. This perspective excuses any room for judgment. One cannot judge legitimacy.

Legitimacy is a key concept of how one adjudicates between differing epistemic claims through its ability to become factually and empirically verified. Clearly, as Turner points out the problem with the above citation is that when valuative presuppositions are given primacy over others especially in the realm of law we beget differing concepts of justice by instead of focusing on a question of legality a normative question we focus on public acceptance of legal rules. Turner states, “Weber addressed these difficulties in part by providing alternative nonlegal vocabularies for describing facts. This solution to the problem leads to such devices as the following: Instead of using the term ‘legality,’ which is fundamentally a dogmatic or valuative term, he uses ‘legitimacy,’ which he then defines in a purely nonnomative way” (72). Thus, by taking out the “legal question” question and reframing legality in terms of legitimacy Weber excuses any normative evaluation of the law itself. Turner points out “the question of whether a regimes is legitimate is a factual question to be answered in terms of the probability that a command believed by at least some people to be legitimate will be obeyed” (72). Turner’s thesis is that courts settle factual legal questions about what is legality without questioning whether they themselves are legal. Legitimacy is the about “public acceptance” rather than normative moral questions about legality itself. By taking redefining questions of legality in terms of legitimacy the analyst excuses her/himself from the necessity of evaluating the rules in the first place according to their normatively. Is legitimacy a cop out?


Stephen Turner does not explicitly define what he means by naturalism, in part because he surveys an array of different naturalisms. However, there are many specific appeals Turner makes in the name of naturalism that we can use to triangulate his intended meanings. First, we can define Turner’s naturalism in terms of what it is not. Turner poses the following as opposites or threats to naturalism: enchantment (re-imbuing the world with wonderful entities that can’t be reduced to the physical), the transcendental (that which requires us to posit and commit to entities beyond empiricism), the metaphysical (with some basis outside of physical extension or explanation), the “spooky” (unobservable, therefore laughably dubitable), and finally, normativism (to be explained below).

Turner introduces the notion of the “ordinary stream of explanation,” which can be roughly inferred to mean a causal explanation involving a series of facts which are incidental, and are not compelling or binding in any way (9). I assert that implicit in Turner’s definition of ordinary facts is the presumption that nonnormative facts exist, making his definition question-begging. This would likely not surprise Turner, as he addresses the circularities involved in naturalism just as often as he does with normativism. Furthermore, the notion of “ordinary” presupposes a norm that the default kind of explanation (of science) is the right or better one, and this even implies that explanatory contenders must prove their mettle on the incumbent naturalistic terms rather than their own.

Turner’s naturalism can also be identified with certain contemporary (contingent, dominant) commitments in the philosophy of science, to which at least half of Turner’s split personality seems committed. Naturalism in this case means the value-free (read: value-oblivious) empirical-inductive methodology of modern normal science, the accrual of evidence of past cases into a larger generalization to infer about future cases. This includes an implicit but circular assumption/norm of the regularity of nature and the norm of parsimony, under which redundant entities or mechanisms of explanation should be avoided wherever possible (the circularity and transcendental nature of which Turner seems aware). As part of the desire for the simplicity and natural knowability of nature for humans, this also includes a norm of the “causal closure” of the physical. Why open up a closed causal system (of explanation) to make room for something that could be interpreted with natural mechanisms without losing anything important from the picture?

Finally, we can understand naturalism via its method of accounting for that which normativists claim to explain with norms. A naturalist might explain these as empirical conventions and habits acquired through deterministic feedback, and as epiphenomenal manifestations of cognitive mechanisms which need not appeal to some hidden, emergent, or transcendental essence or structure of normativity. Turner thus identifies naturalism with anti-normativism by definition. Whatever cannot yet be explained by science, such as the source, structure, or force of normativity, need not break with ordinary explanation; the details of the correct scientific explanation are merely not yet available. We have come so far without the need to posit other methods of explanation, Turner asserts, so why start now?


In Andrew Feenberg’s Between Reason and Experience, he develops a theory of instrumentalization, a type of technical rationality, as part of his larger Critical Theory of Technology. Instrumentalization theory bridges the gap Feenberg sees between the constructivist approaches of technology studies and the social rationality of modernity theories, which emphasizes systems of rationalization and generalized concepts and narratives. It is a dialectical approach that reveals the co-constructed nature of humans and their technologies and its goal is to “explain the social and cultural impact of technical rationality without losing trace of its concrete social embodiment in actual devices and systems” (151).

For Feenberg, instrumentalization is a two-part approach to analyzing technology. In first stage, primary instrumentalization, objects are stripped of their context to reveal their potential affordances given different social contexts; they are reduced to their useful characteristics. They are removed from their original context, which allows the critic to see the affects of socialization on the technology. Another way to think about this stage is that it emphasizes the potential functions of the technology, which depends on the different standards or technical codes developed by particular societies. Feenberg derives this first stage from the theories of modernity in that the procedure “de-worlds” the object and exposes it to a differentiated system of order and control shaped by rationality. “Focusing exclusively on [this] negative aspect of the process,” Feenberg writes, “yields [a] dystopian critique…” (151).

To avoid this anti-modernity perspective, Feenberg develops a second level of analysis, a secondary instrumentalization. This occurs when the object is recontextualized and assigned a new meaning; here the technology reveals its social embeddedness as it is “disclosed” to human society along with a new set of meanings. This can be shaped both by the designers of the technology and the various users as they explore potentially unintended uses for the technology in their social worlds (e.g. the French Teletel). Feenberg takes this premise from the constructivist empirical work of technology studies, which interprets technologies, demystifying any essentialism granted to them by modernity. His instrumentalization theory, then, allows scholars to capture the best of both modernity theories and technology studies, including normative arguments about how we should proceed with the development of future technologies.

Professional Ethics

In Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems, Jerome Ravetz concerns himself in Chapter 11 with what he terms "ethics in scientific activity," though he focuses most on what could be called a "work ethic," which extends the previous chapter on "quality control" in science. Rather than focus on the ethics of specific scientific inquiries, Ravetz worries that the impetus for scientists to abide by a professional ethic may be corrosive in that the ideal focus of science, that is, on producing new knowledge, may be usurped by uncomely behavior. Ravetz intertwines descriptions of the social schematics for scientific professional ethics including the responsibilities and creation of scientific leaders, commentary on what he calls "learned professions," descriptions of how less scientifically skilled workers can be tempted to cheat the system, and wraps up the chapter with scientific ethics as construed by four prominent theorists of science. At the very end of this, he tacks on what often, in contemporary US society, ethics may be used to indicate—a code of humanitarian concerns.

Though referencing other professions more generally in this chapter, Ravetz does not unfold or compare scientific ethics to the two most obvious set of professional ethics, the hippocratic oath and the legal ethics set out by bar associations (though he describes law later as a practical problem, 342), and how scientific ethics may stack up to these. Instead, Ravetz explains that scientists belong to that class of professionals that self-police (296). This self-policing functions because group adherents "enjoy special rewards in virtue of their membership." Ravetz proceeds to demonstrate that this conceptualization of ethics falls short as its mechanisms could too easily lead a person to produce shoddy work if no one else would know. By contrast, Ravetz posits that these mechanisms of ethics can only function if I am also loyal "to my group," in that I fear disappointing its members, and, I take pride "in my own work." Yet, to this must be added adept and energizing leadership capable of boosting and maintaining my morale. (298) Furthermore, this process must be proportionate to the profession's working etiquette, rather, the "experience and values" of the profession's actual practitioners.

Rationality (Social Rationality)

For Andrew Feenberg, a critique of rationality includes its reconstruction as an ally in his Critical Theory of Technology. He, like many others, have argued that the rationality of the modern world, or the rationality of scientific knowledge applied to the social world, has differentiated technical and human society and dehumanized people as they become victims of other non-technical, rationalized systems, such as capitalism. “The challenge,” he says, “is to arrive at a new understanding of [modernity and rationality] that avoids the pitfalls of the evolutionary view” (158). To that end, he develops his theory of instrumentalization to critique social rationality, which is his term for the element of Weber’s notion of rationality that focused on “the increased importance of ‘calculation and control’” (ibid). Specifically, Feenberg focuses on three principles of his social rationality (159):

  1. exchange of equivalents; 
  2. classification and application of rules; and 
  3. optimization of effort a calculation of results.  

Although these three principles appear to be scientific in their application in society, they are, in reality, illusory. Instead, rationality underdetermines outcomes, especially in the more administrative systems typical of modernity (e.g. markets and bureaucracies). 

Feenberg outlines three main critiques of rationality, demonstrating their ineffectiveness: Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and Habermas. Still, he finds elements worth salvaging from two thinkers. From Marx, he values his critique of market economics and surplus values, which resembles critiques in technology studies; from Lukas, he admires his attempt to synthesize Marx’s “fetishism of commodities” with “Weber’s rationalization theory in an innovative theory of reification” (165). After all, Feenberg is attempting his own synthesis of two premises, one from modernity theories and the other from technology studies. This theory, he says, fills the gap between those who dismiss technology in their discussions of rationality and those who dismiss rational systems to focus exclusively on social constructions of technology. “Society and its rational systems are not separate entities,” he writes. “It is not a real distinction between things that exist independently of each other (168). His approach seeks to understand and overcome these tensions between what he also calls biases, substantive (or embedded) and implementation (or contextual) (163).   

Technical Problems
According to Ravetz in Chapter 12 of Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems, technical problems differ from scientific problems primarily by the potential for continued expansion of knowledge beyond the required solution to a problem in the physical and material world. In brief, despite the vast similarities in theoretical problem-solving approaches of both science and technical fields, science can be liberated from the need to produce results beyond producing new knowledge. It must not be judged only on whether what scientists produce has applicability in the "real world." (329)

Further, technical practitioners not only concerned with invention of the new must address the technical concerns or problems posed to them by their employers—they must contend with the physical limits placed upon the problem at hand (330). Moreover, the satisfaction of a needed function achieves the performance desired. The judgment of quality relies less upon leadership in the field or ethical commitments such as pride in one's work, but rather more on the fulfillment of a technical need. (332) In the case of immense projects such as bridges or military equipment, replicability may become moot, having little bearing with the technical success, (unlike as is expected in science). (333) Profitability also may not necessarily define a technical problem or the quality of its solution (334). Routinely, we rehabilitate inventors and engineers whose work, though not originally commercially successful, impacts current work positively or profoundly (335).

Technical problems also can include problems of administration in that though concerning the efficacy of people, the goals for the people regard their functions (337). Technical problems can be separated from problems Ravetz identifies as "practical problems." Ravetz characterizes practical problems as those problems in society which may be difficult to frame, and as such, its framers may understand as concerning morals and philosophy, thus, difficult to test or control (341).

In contrast to scientific and technical problems, Ravetz views practical problems as framed and solved within ideologies. However, as practical problems can seem insurmountable, often they become rendered through the proposal of technical problems. For example, issues of welfare may become "welfare engineering." In such instances, once the technical solutions begin to roll, the initial practical problem may well be forgotten (342).

Folk-Science (will be updated and expanded by william)


Fuller contrasts how STS and science view theories [Phil. of STS, 61–62]. “STS studies the processes that cause a theory to be accepted as true, whereas science studies the processes that cause a theory to be true.” The scientific search for truth reveals its realist commitments, while the STS view reveals its commitments to social participation in science. Acceptance indicates the necessity of volition in regarding a scientific finding as true; scientific findings are not regarded automatically as true. Normally, a new discovery is revealed to the world through a published paper. The scientific discipline reviews the paper for conformance to its norms of evidence, methodology, etc. Other scientists may attempt to replicate the experiment, confirm its findings by reviewing associated data, or judge its merits by other means. These actions may lead to a theory being accepted as true within the scientific discipline. However, just as acceptance of a finding is not automatic within a discipline, its public acceptance requires additional actions be scientists, the media, government, and other institutions before it can be regarded as fully accepted as a scientific fact. Where theories compete for acceptance, their standing in the eyes of scientists and the public can vary. Fuller describes five levels of acceptance [Social Epist., 109–110] and uses them to dissect Kuhn’s concepts of scientific revolutions, paradigms, and incommensurability.


Science and history intersect over the evidence used to support a scientific claim [Social Epist., 99]. Typically, a scientific theory is supported by experimental evidence. The relationships between experimental evidence and a theory are subjects considered by philosophers of science, such as Karl Popper. However, there is often some subjectivity involved in what counts for evidence and what is excluded, and that subjectivity is often used as evidence by historians and social theorists in assessing the claims of science. For example, the credentials of the scientists who conduct and report on an experiment are considered by observers when they judge a finding’s validity. Consideration of how a scientific enterprise is funded would be another example. Things have become especially dicey when social scientists consider the work of the natural sciences. Fuller’s analysis of the Sokal Hoax shows how strong the animosities between social and natural scientists can become. Scientists’ perceptions of studies, methods, and statements can be distorted beyond recognition [See Table 9, Phil. of STS, 99]. These perceptions extend to the social scientists involved, such as [Phil. of STS, 100] Steven Weinberg’s regard for “historians, philosophers, and sociologists of science as ‘cultural adversaries’ of science.”


When a scientific claim is not grounded in a discipline’s accepted norms, it may be regarded as fraudulent. In the natural sciences, fraud might consist of falsifying evidence, selective use of evidence, or misstatement of findings. Scientists committing fraud may be subject to their discipline’s sanctions, loss of funding, or dismissal. Cross-disciplinary fraud is problematic because there may not be consistency in scientific norms. This is especially evident when natural scientists view social science as threatening to their interests, such as during the Science Wars of the 1990s. Given their strong attachments to experimental evidence, peer reviews, replication of results, and other disciplinary norms, natural scientists often look down on the looser standards of the social sciences. To their eyes, the social scientist may appear as a fraud, even if their work complies with social science norms. Conversely, social scientists may regard the failure of natural scientists to follow their disciplinary norms as frauds. This would certainly apply to Sokal’s claim that his hoax was an experiment [Phil. of STS, 102]. Further, social scientists may interpret disciplinary norms (i.e. peer review) as fundamentally flawed and inconsistent with global scientific norms. Fuller seems interested in moving past the animosities between the natural and social scientists, especially in getting past knee-jerk accusations of fraud, even asking [Phil. of STS 106] if fraud really matters. It seems that the larger issue of the general acceptance of scientific knowledge is at stake.


Limiting the scope of the concept of “purity” and “pure inquiry” to academic and research institutions, we must consider what forces affect the integrity and output of knowledge. As raised during the seminar discussion, in STS-5424, to what extent does a funding-source affect the purity research? And, if the strength of the force is variable, can its influence be negated, in its entirety, or only counter-balanced? Such questions are of increasingly importance, as ‘neutral’ funding resources are diminishing with the marginal US economic recovery and potential for decreased revenue for educational institutions, particularly those funding (in part) by their state. Is purity, as with Puritanical norms of modesty in American culture, an anachronism, one displaced by the reality of current economics? At the end of the seminar day, these questions remained unanswered. However, it would seem that purity _should_ be imbued in practitioners and new entrants to either academia or research institutions. We (STSers) ought to pursue or encourage purity in work i.e., production with minimal influence from interested parties, while acknowledging the need to sustain one’s self. I will accept Monstanto’s money to study the effects of GMO patents, but I will not bias my account to please the client.

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