Critical Contextual Empiricism and the Politics of Knowledge

Matthew Sample



What are philosophers doing when they prescribe a particular epistemology for science? According to science and technology studies, the answer to this question implicates both knowledge and politics, even when the latter is hidden. Exploring this dynamic via a specific case, I argue that Longino’s “critical contextual empiricism” ultimately relies on a form of political liberalism. Her choice to nevertheless foreground epistemological concerns can be clarified by considering historical relationships between science and society, as well as the culture of academic philosophy. This example, I conclude, challenges philosophers of science to consider the political ideals and accountability entailed by their prescribed knowledge practices.


objectivity; democracy; co-production; philosophical methodology; science and technology studies

Full Text:



Barnes, Barry, and David Bloor. “Relativism, Rationalism and the Sociology of Knowledge.” In Rationality and Relativism, edited by Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes. Oxford: Blackwell, 1982.

Biddle, Justin B. “Advocates or Unencumbered Selves? On the Role of Mill’s Political Liberalism in Longino’s Contextual Empiricism.” Philosophy of Science 76, no. 5 (2009): 612–23.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy, edited by David Ames Curtis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. A Society Adrift: Interviews and Debates 1974–1997, edited by Myrto Gondicas Enrique Escobar and Pascal Vernay. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010.

Dotson, Kristie. “How Is This Paper Philosophy?” Comparative Philosophy 3, no. 1 (2012): 3–29.

Eigi, Jaana. “‘Knowing Things in Common’: Sheila Jasanoff and Helen Longino on the Social Nature of Knowledge.” Acta Baltica Historiae et Philosophiae Scientiarum 1, no. 2 (2013): 26–37.

Epstein, Steven. Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Ezrahi, Yaron. The Descent of Icarus: Science and the Transformation of Contemporary Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Fuller, Steve. “Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry. Helen Longino.” Philosophy of Science 60, no. 2 (1993): 360–62.

Harding, Sandra. Objectivity and Diversity: Another Logic of Scientific Research. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Hesse, Mary. Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science. Sussex: Harvester, 1980.

Hicks, Daniel. “Is Longino’s Conception of Objectivity Feminist?” Hypatia 26, no. 2 (2011): 333–51.

Howard, Don. “Better Red than Dead–Putting an End to the Social Irrelevance of Postwar Philosophy of Science.” Science & Education 18, no. 2 (2009): 199–220.

Intemann, Kristen. “Diversity and Dissent in Science: Does Democracy Always Serve Feminist Aims?” In Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, edited by Heidi E. Grasswick. Dordrecht: Springer, 2011.

Jasanoff, Sheila. “The Idiom of Co-Production.” In States of Knowledge: The Co-production of Science and the Social Order, edited by Sheila Jasanoff, 1–13. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Kitcher, Philip. “The Third Way: Reflections on Helen Longino’s The Fate of Knowledge.” Philosophy of Science 69, no. 4 (2002): 549–59.

Latour, Bruno. “Postmodern? No, Simply Amodern! Steps towards an Anthropology of Science.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 21, no. 1 (1990): 145–71.

Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

Leuschner, Anna. “Pluralism and Objectivity: Exposing and Breaking a Circle.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 43, no. 1 (2012): 191–98.

Longino, Helen. Science as Social Knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Longino, Helen. “Multiplying Subjects and the Diffusion of Power.” The Journal of Philosophy 88, no. 11 (1991): 666–74.

Longino, Helen. The Fate of Knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.

Longino, Helen. “Does The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Permit a Feminist Revolution in Science?” In Thomas Kuhn, edited by Thomas Nickles. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2003.

Merton, Robert K. “A Note on Science and Democracy.” Journal of Legal and Political Sociology 1 (1942): 115–26.

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. London: John W. Parker & Son, 1859.

Mirowski, Philip. “The Scientific Dimensions of Social Knowledge and Their Distant Echoes in 20th-Century American Philosophy of Science.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35, no. 2 (2004): 283–326.

Popper, Karl. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.

Reisch, George A. How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science: To the Icy Slopes of Logic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Rooney, Phyllis. “The Marginalization of Feminist Epistemology and What That Reveals About Epistemology ‘Proper.’” In Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science, edited by Heidi E. Grasswick. Dordrecht: Springer, 2011.

Sample, Matthew. “Silent performances: Are ‘Repertoires’ Really Post-Kuhnian?” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 61 (2017): 51–56.

Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011. First published 1985.

Vacura, Miroslav. “Lacey’s Concept of Value-Free Science.” Teorie vědy / Theory of Science 40, no. 2 (2018): 211–29.

Visvanathan, Shiv. A Carnival for Science: Essays on Science, Technology, and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Copyright (c) 2023 Matthew Sample

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

TEORIE VĚDY / THEORY OF SCIENCE – journal for interdisciplinary studies of science is published twice a year by the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies). ISSN 1210-0250 (Print) ISSN 1804-6347 (Online) MK ČR E 18677 web: /// email: