Epistemological Contextualism and Cultures of Knowledge

Wolfgang Detel


Abstract: My first aim in this article is to describe the origin of the notion of culture of knowledge due to the research activities carried out at the University of Frankfurt by the Research Group Culture of Knowledge and Social Change since 1999. In this context we examined the relation between knowledge and society and proposed the notion of culture of knowledge as a key-concept to emphasize that knowledge does always appear in a specific historical form, and can be investigated only as a social practice. This key-concept turned out to be a helpful heuristic construct and had therefore a widespread diffusion as a general and extremely flexible category which can shed light on mutual relations between knowledge and culture in several historical contexts. Secondly, I will compare the approach taken in the culture of knowledge with other contextualist approaches of contemporary research areas like History of Science and Theory of Culture to show that it is particularly helpful in terms of connecting different fields. Finally, I will drive attention to a basic question concerning the approach of the culture of knowledge which remains still unanswered. The Frankfurter Research Group considered it as a model of knowledge alternative to all those positions in History of Science and Theory of Culture that assume the universal, trans-historical, and trans-cultural validity of fundamental forms of knowledge and cognitive abilities. I will discuss whether and to what extent these positions are really alternative, and for this purpose I will focus on a central point: whether the thesis of a radical historicity of knowledge undermines the very idea of universal rationality and to what extent.

Keywords: Cultures of Knowledge; Contextualism; History of Science; Epistemology; Models of Knowledge


Il contestualismo epistemologico e le culture epistemiche

Riassunto: In questo articolo intendo illustrare la nascita della nozione di cultura epistemica nell’ambito delle indagini svolte presso l’Università di Francoforte dall’unità di ricerca Cultura epistemica e mutamento sociale a partire dal 1999. In questo contesto si è indagato il rapporto tra sapere e società e proposto la nozione di cultura epistemica come concetto-chiave per sottolineare come il sapere compaia sempre in una forma storica specifica, e come questo stesso possa essere indagato solo come pratica sociale. Questo concetto-chiave si è rivelato un concetto euristicamente fruttuoso e perciò nel frattempo ha conosciuto ampia diffusione come categoria generale ed estremamente flessibile per gettar luce sui reciproci rapporti tra sapere e cultura in diversi contesti storici. Inoltre, intendo comparare l’approccio delle culture epistemiche con altri approcci propri della ricerca contemporanea in arre come la storia della scienza e la teoria della cultura per mostrarne l’utilità nel relazionare tra loro campi diversi. Infine, voglio portare l’attenzione su un problema di fondo, ancora aperto, che riguarda l’approccio delle culture epistemiche. L’unità di ricerca francofortese ha inteso questo approccio come modello di conoscenza alternativo a tutte quelle posizioni nella storia della scienza e nella teoria della cultura che assumono la validità universale, trans-culturale e trans-storica, delle forme fondamentali del sapere e delle capacità cognitive. Intendo discutere se e fino a che punto queste posizioni siano realmente alternative. Per questo mi concentrerò su un elemento centrale: se e fino a che punto con la tesi della radicale storicità del sapere venga intaccata l’idea stessa di una razionalità universale.

Parole chiave: Culture epistemiche; Contestualismo; Storia della scienza; Epistemologia; Modelli della conoscenza.

Parole chiave

Cultures of Knowledge; Contextualism; History of Science; Epistemology; Models of Knowledge

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.4453/rifp.2014.0004

Copyright (c) 2014 Wolfgang Detel

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