Institutions and Scientific Progress

Philosophy of the Social Sciences (3) (2020)
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Scientific progress has many facets and can be conceptualized in different ways, for example in terms of problem-solving, of truthlikeness or of growth of knowledge. The main claim of the paper is that the most important prerequisite of scientific progress is the institutionalization of competition and criticism. An institutional framework appropriately channeling competition and criticism is the crucial factor determining the direction and rate of scientific progress, independently on how one might wish to conceptualize scientific progress itself. The main intention is to narrow the divide between traditional philosophy of science and the sociological, economic and political outlook at science that emphasizes the private interests motivating scientists and the subsequent contingent nature of the enterprise. The aim is to show that although science is a social enterprise taking place in historical time and thus is of a contingent nature, it can and in fact does lead to genuine scientific progress - contrary to the claims of certain sociologists of science and other relativists who standardly stress its social nature, but deny its progressive character. I will first deal with the factual issue by way of introducing the main concepts and mechanisms of modern institutional theory and by applying them to the analysis of the cultural phenomenon that we call modern science. I will then turn to the normative issue: what is the appropriate content of the institutional framework, for scientific progress to emerge and be sustained at which level should it be set and by whom? Addressing this problematic is equivalent to conducting a constitutional debate leading to a Constitution of Science.

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C. Mantzavinos
University of Athens


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