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A Nice Derangement of Epistemes: Post-positivism in the Study of Science from Quine to Latour Paperback – February 15, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0226978628 ISBN-10: 0226978621 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (February 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226978621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226978628
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Philosophers of science, science-studies practitioners, and science educators will find Zammito’s quasi-history of the post-positivist nature-of-science debates useful and formidable and sufficiently balanced to satisfy most if not all political and epistemological tastes.”

(Steven Turner Science Education)

“Zammito is admirably evenhanded, arguing always with nuance and never with a bludgeon. His book can almost be read as a cautious defense of social and cultural studies of science, although his was moved to write it, he explains, by his distress at the postmodern abandonment of the ideal of truth.”

(Theodore M. Porter American Historical Review)

“Zammito systematically examines the philosophical movements of postpositivism (such as the linguistic turn, postmodernism, poststructuralism, and deconstructionism) with the aim of demonstrating that the extravagances of these movements resulted in the undermining of empirical scientific inquiry, natural as well as social. . . . Zammito’s analyses are thorough and well documented.”


“Zammito sets out to trace the story of the development of anti-empiricist philosophy, that is, philosophy and sociology that deny that there can be decisive, objective, empirical evidence for any scientific claim. . . . His book is, in the end, a cautionary tale about academic standards, defending history, philosophy, and sociology of science. Some have gone too far, Zammito claims and we must return to what he calls ‘moderate historicism.’ ”

(David J. Stump Isis) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

Since the 1950s, many philosophers of science have attacked positivism—the theory that scientific knowledge is grounded in objective reality. Reconstructing the history of these critiques, John H. Zammito argues that while so-called postpositivist theories of science are very often invoked, they actually provide little support for fashionable postmodern approaches to science studies.

Zammito shows how problems that Quine and Kuhn saw in the philosophy of the natural sciences inspired a turn to the philosophy of language for resolution. This linguistic turn led to claims that science needs to be situated in both historical and social contexts, but the claims of recent "science studies" only deepened the philosophical quandary. In essence, Zammito argues that none of the problems with positivism provides the slightest justification for denigrating empirical inquiry and scientific practice, delivering quite a blow to the "discipline" postmodern science studies.

Filling a gap in scholarship to date, A Nice Derangement of Epistemes will appeal to historians, philosophers, philosophers of science, and the broader scientific community.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kon E. Tampakis on August 5, 2014
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This is a very helpful book. But, like sophisticated machinery, it is not for the uninitiated.

Zammito has an axe to grind with the prevalent ideas about science coming from STS. He takes the time to revisit and critique the origin of many of its founding myths. His book is invaluable for those who know the relevant literature and who have already a very good grasp of his subject matter. Zammito has a very strong view on what is going on, and he pushes it mercilessly. Thus, it requires an understanding of the issues. to see beyond his critique.If one does, however, he is rewarded with an excellent historical introduction of what has been going on in the field in the last thirty years.

This is not the book to get into the subject. It is a book for those who know the lay of the land.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr Garry on March 3, 2013
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I regret I am obliged to revise my earlier review of this leaden book. I earlier wrote:

"This book is an attack on the various studies I completed for my Masters in science and technology studies (STS) back in the 1980s, in which I learned that science was subject to sociological study. Zammito dismisses all that as post-modern pish-tosh, and asserts the inviolability of the sciences from criticism: science is right, end of story. All those idiots in humanities departments: fools, the lot of them!

"I don't agree with him, but I think this is an excellent critique of the sociological critique of science, and should be read by any student of STS."

I retract my earlier opinion: this is not an excellent critique. It is appalling. The further I get into this morass, the less I am inclined to continue. I pity the author's students, and I can only assume that they survive his lectures through the copious ingestion of illegal amphetamines. You need a PhD in STS before you can even start to read this molasses-slow piece of ponderosity. Alas, I only have a Masters, so I find it more than hard going.

Each and every page is a pain to read. Every paragraph is riddled with scare quotes, italicised terms, and longer quotes; all clearly meant to intimidate the reader into bowing to the author's vast, vast learning. You don't understand me, little (wo)man, the author implicitly says? Then begone, and do not trouble your betters. Come back in a decade or two.

A terrible example of the arrogant academic.
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9 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Joao Leao on August 13, 2009
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This is an ambitious book about a pretty prickly subject here addressed by the deplorable label of `post-positivism' (you know, like `post-modernism' only less imaginative? And you thought that was impossible!). This arguably applies to the series of controversies and short lived doctrines which dominated the study of the so-called exact (or inhuman?) sciences
by the so-called human (and inexact?) sciences over the past 50 years or so. I prefer the term `metascience' introduced by Gerard Radnitzky but I agree that it does convey an idea of collegiality that never quite obtained in this domain, now vaguely assembled under the vaguer designation of `Science Studies'. Indeed what Zammito means to `chronicle' is not a pretty story but a petty, confused and quite misguided succession of ideological positions and contrapositions that may be summarized (with apologies to Alfred Jarry) as a `long journey from language to language via language'! This is clearly a partial point-of-view hailing from the quarters of `Philosophy of Science' where all these arguments have to be regarded as part of the long waning of the analytic tradition. Accordingly, Zammito picks up his thread from Quine but he is really retrospecting from Kuhn in order to focus on what he considers the main dogmas at issue in these discussions, namely the so called thesis on the `theory-ladeness of observation', `the underdetermination of theory by experiment' and `the incommensurability of theories', all of whom remains associated with the `Kuhnian Revolution' even if Kuhn picked them from other authors and never quite managed to adopted them in a reasoned way.
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