Why is the relationship between the sciences and humanities so fraught with suspicion? Is there a contradiction in the very aims of these different forms of research, and if so, can it be reconciled?
The relationship between the sciences and humanities is fraught with suspicion because of an important point of contradiction between the two. (Natural) sciences are built primarily on the basis that there is a great deal of objectivity within. For example, the optimal temperature of the human body is 37 degrees celcius and deviation from it will cause damage to certain body parts. On the other hand, the humanities are centred on the premise that things – objects, ideas, and meanings – are the way they are because of how society made them up to be. As such, contradiction and contention arises when schools of though expound that scientific results are actually social constructs. Continuing the above example of a human body’s optimal temperature, the concept of temperature and its measurement in degrees celcius are socially constructed. Hence, there is this dilemma of how scientific ‘facts’ can be independent of society if they were ‘constructed’ and later propelled by members of society in the first place?
In fact, this dilemma is captured and contested in the Science Wars of the 1990s. The Science Wars were a series of intellectual exchanges between scientific realists and postmodern critics about the nature of scientific theory. Postmodernists questioned scientific objectivity by critiquing on scientific knowledge and methods across disciplines like cultural studies, feminist studies, science and technology studies, etc. Scientific realists, on the other hand, countered that objective scientific knowledge is real and accused that postmodernists have little understanding of the science they were criticising.
Postmodernists reinterpret scientific achievements of the past through the lens of the practitioners. They often found that political and economic...
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