Science education & the tightrope between scientism and relativism: a Wittgensteinian balancing act.

In Paul Standish & A. Skilbeck (eds.), Wittgenstein and Education: On Not Sparing Others the Trouble of Thinking,. London: pp. 56-66 (2023)
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Mentalities like scientism and relativism idealise or belittle science respectively, and thus hurt science education and our literacy. However, it seems very hard to avoid the former mentality without sliding to the latter, and vise versa. I will suggest that part of what makes balancing between the two so difficult, is a representational account of meaning that science educators, like most of us really, usually endorse. Scientism then, arises from the assumption that ​there is such a thing called science​. Relativism, on the other hand, assumes that ​there is no such thing called science,t​hereisnorealmeaningattachedtotheterm​.Wittgenstein'sremarksonrule-following then, could help us escape this twofold danger. Addressing scientism, Wittgensteinian writings remind us that, in order to understand the sciences, we do not need to point to some mental referendum of what science is. We rather need to grasp a matrix of overlapping, often implicit, always evolving rules that govern scientific practices. Addressing relativism, Wittgenstein's comments help us realise that there are always certain criteria about what kinds of things we call by a name; there are rules governing scientific practices, rules that even though they may be context dependent or evolving, are always in play.

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Renia Gasparatou
University of Patras


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