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Putting Pragmatism to Work in the Cold War: Science, Technology, and Politics in the Writings of James B. Conant

Biddle, Justin B. (2011) Putting Pragmatism to Work in the Cold War: Science, Technology, and Politics in the Writings of James B. Conant. [Published Article or Volume]


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This paper examines James Conant’s pragmatic theory of science – a theory that has been neglected by most commentators on the history of 20th-century philosophy of science – and it argues that this theory occupied an important place in Conant’s strategic thinking about the Cold War. Conant drew upon his wartime science policy work, the history of science, and Quine’s epistemological holism to argue that there is no strict distinction between science and technology, that there is no such thing as “the scientific method,” and that theories are better interpreted as policies rather than creeds. An important consequence that he drew from these arguments is that science is both a thoroughly value-laden, and an intrinsically social, enterprise. These results led him to develop novel proposals for reorganizing scientific and technological research – proposals that he believed could help to win the Cold War. Interestingly, the Cold War had a different impact upon Conant’s thinking than it did upon many other theorists of science in postwar America. Instead of leading him to “the icy slopes of logic,” it led him to develop a socially- and politically-engaged theory that was explicitly in the service of the American Cold War effort.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Biddle, Justin
Keywords: Pragmatism, Cold War and philosophy of science, Science and values, Social epistemology, Science court, James B. Conant
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Science and Society
General Issues > Science Education
General Issues > Science Policy
General Issues > Values In Science
Depositing User: Dr. Justin B. Biddle
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2012 16:42
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2012 16:42
Item ID: 9241
Journal or Publication Title: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Publisher: Elsevier
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1016/j.shpsa.2011.07.002

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