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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Critique Without Foundation: Nietzsche and the Social Study of Science

  • Author(s): Payne, Christine
  • Advisor(s): Goldman, Harvey
  • et al.
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This work draws upon the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche in order to move beyond persistent philosophical and political tensions present in normative and naturalistic approaches in the social studies of science scholarship. I provide a series of interpretive interventions into Marxist, relativist, and feminist standpoint theories of knowledge. My research makes two central theoretical contributions. First, I demonstrate the fruitfulness of deploying Nietzsche’s perspectivalist approach to questions of truth as a means for moving beyond the impasse of epistemological universalism and relativism. Nietzsche’s analyses of truth simultaneously connect politically and ethically-motivated critiques of ideology with the recognition of the particular and partial character of all claims to knowledge. Insofar as one seeks or requires a foundation upon which intellectual or existential understandings may be built and secured, Nietzsche’s contention that truths can be justified in light of forms of life directs attention to material embodiments and their expressions; focus ultimately belongs on the material and cultural conditions and social relations in which particular forms of life are embodied and expressed.

The second theoretical contribution this work makes is attending to the question of the will-to-truth as such. In following Nietzsche’s analyses through their resignification and expansion in the work of Freud and the early Frankfurt School, I demonstrate the significance of interrogating the taken-for-granted value of seeking out and securing more and better accounts of the truth of the natural and social world. The desire for more and better truths as the means towards, and foundational justification of, better intellectual, technological, political, and ethical forms of life can, counterintuitively, both emerge from and seek to attain and maintain social structures, relations, and sensibilities characterized by various degrees of fatal falsehoods. Otherwise disparate approaches to social epistemology fail to ask after the value of our desire for truth. It is in attending to the forms of life out of which such desires emerge that the current research makes a crucial intervention into the social studies of science and knowledge.

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This item is under embargo until September 13, 2020.