Here’s an extended quote from pp. 95-96 of Ian Hacking’s The Social Construction of What?, a (very good) 1999 book on philosophy of science. I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot lately.
In terms of the unmasking of established order, constructionists are properly put on the left. Their political attitude is nevertheless very much not in harmony with those scientists who see themselves as allies of the oppressed, but also feel like the special guardians of the most important truths about the world, the true bastions of objectivity. The scientists insist that, in the end, objectivity has been the last support of the weak. Here is a disagreement. It is a rather messy matter, a sticky point involving deep-seated but ill-expressed attitudes. Who is on the left?
I take this question very seriously, for I am deeply sympathetic to both sides. Some years ago, after a talk of mine about verisimilitude, a freedom fighter of days gone by insisted on the extent to which objective truth is called for, as a virtue, when one is fighting tyranny. The enemy always tries to steal it (Pravda and Trud were once newspapers named after the noblest idea, truth). The villains never could get away with that, so long as the last words are: “that simply is not true, liar!” My fighter would’ve hated those who want to unmask the values of truth, reality, and fact. They want, as he sees it, to remove the last ledge upon which freedom and justice can stand. I saw what he meant, and feel humble towards a man who really worked for the liberation of his people.
Nevertheless, a serious issue is joined. Feminists feel most strongly that they well know about oppression. Left/right: what did that mean except an army of men in the French National Assembly? Forget it. They see objectivity and abstract truth as tools that have been used against them. They remind us of the old refrain: women are subjective, men are objective. They argue that those very values, and the word objectivity, are a gigantic confidence trick. If any kind of objectivity is to be be preserved, some argue, it must be one that strives for a multitude of standpoints.
I have nothing to contribute to this debate, precisely because I am torn. Perhaps it is a generational thing…I invite others to confess to these difficulties, and to refrain from dogmatism.