Science Naturalized, Science Denatured: An Evaluation of Ronald Giere's Cognitivist Approach to Explaining Science

N. Efron, Menachem Fisch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ronald Giere and others aspire to 'naturalize science' by examining scientific activity as they would any other natural phenomenon — scientifically. Giere aims to fashion a theory of science that is naturalistic, realistic, and evolutionary, and to thus carve for himself a niche between foundationalist philosophies of science (positing abstract criteria of rationality) on the one hand, and relativist sociologies of science on the other. Giere's approach is appealing because it allows that science is a human endeavor pursued by humans using human cognitive skills. The cognitive skills most salient to science, in Giere's view, are the ability to represent the world more or less accurately, and the ability to choose more or less accurately between available theories. These skills, Giere believes, have been endowed by evolution. We believe that Giere's account is inadequate because it gives short shrift to rationality. Giere places too much emphasis on natural modeling skills and on natural heuristics for judging the relative merits of these models, and too little emphasis on the systematic attempts to reflect on, find fault with, and modify, models that characterize so much of scientific activity. This aspect of science and other human endeavor — the creative, contemplative, reflective, in short the rational aspect of representation — is all but lacking in Giere's study. Thus, Giere's account of science, like other naturalist accounts, excludes precisely that which is most important, and which most needs to be explained, about science.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)187-221
JournalHistory and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1991


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