Thabo Mbeki, postmodernism, and the consequences

South African Journal of Philosophy 34 (4):441-461 (2015)
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Abstract
Explanations of former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s public and private views on the aetiology of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country remain partial at best without the recognition that the latter presuppose and imply a postmodernist/postcolonialist philosophy of science that erases the line separating the political from the scientific. Evidence from Mbeki’s public speeches, interviews, and private and anonymous writings suggests that it was postmodernist/postcolonialist theory that inspired him to doubt the “Western” scientific consensus on HIV/AIDS and to implement a public health policy that dragged its feet on full roll-out of antiretroviral therapy, causing thousands of avoidable deaths. A weak reductio ad absurdum allows us to conclude from this premise that postmodernist/postcolonial critique of “Western” science ought to be shunned. A comparative argument from consequences further suggests that in a situation where a misguided health policy has lead to a humanitarian catastrophe, and where postmodernist/postcolonialist critique of science can and has been used to justify this policy, an alternative theory ought to be preferred on which such justification would not be possible. The paper closes with a call for a non-relativist alternative to postmodernist/postcolonialist philosophy of science, and evaluates the potential of recent developments in ‘Studies of Expertise” to yield such.
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Archival date: 2015-04-30
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2015-04-30

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