The Strong Programme

The so-called Strong Programme is a particular kind of sociology of science that was 'created' by the "Edinburgh School" of sociology in the late 1970's to early 1980's. The two main proponents of the Strong Programme were Barry Barnes and David Bloor (and also Mary Hesse, though her version of the strong programme is somewhat different from that of Barnes and Bloor). Basically, the strong programme is a way of describing science (sociologically) that allows you to explain all 'scientific' beliefs with the same sorts of explanations. The gyst of the strong programme (that of Barnes and Bloor will be discussed here) can be summarized into four points:

  • 1. Causal: All explanations it offers must be causal. That is, concerning the conditions which enable a particular belief to come about.
  • 2. Impartiality: It should be impartial with regards to rationality/irrationality, truth and falsity, success or failure.
  • 3. Symmetry: The same 'types' of causes should explain true/false, rational/irrational successful/failing beliefs.
  • 4. Reflexivity: It should be able to explain its own beliefs (those of the strong programme) with the same sorts of explanations that it gives for other beliefs.
  • The Strong Programme was a source of great debate when it first appeared. Its most vehement (and hilarious!) opponent was Larry Laudan. Laudan took the strong programme to task mainly for its "Symmetry" thesis, because he believes (as do a lot of rationalists, and scientists...) that true beliefs can and (importantly) do have different sorts of causal explanations than false beliefs. To argue his point, Laudan uses all the standard tactics that objectivists use against relativists, plus a few more. The great thing about the Laudan-Bloor debate (they shot back and forth at each other through a number of articles) is its extremely polemical manner. Both sides make some devastatingly smart points, and they both manage to do so in one of the most hilarious debates I've ever read. I am convinced by both sides, depending on who I happen to read last!

    The idea of 'strong objectivity' (one that takes into account its own causal origins) was very influential in 'science studies' and still is. For example: feminist standpoint epistemology has a lot of connections to the strong programme.

    References (for, against, and developments upon, the Strong Programme)

    Bloor, Knowledge and Social Imagery (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1976).
    Bloor, Barnes and Henry, Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1996) (more recent)
    Hesse, "The Strong Thesis in the Sociology of Science" in Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1980).
    Laudan, "The Pseudo Science of Science" pp. 173-198 in Philsophy of the Social Sciences 11 (1981).
    Bloor, "The Strengths of the Strong Program" pp. 199-213 in Philosophy of the Social Sciences 11 (1981).
    Schmaus, "Reasons, Causes, and the Strong Programme" pp. 189-196 in Philosophy of the Social Sciences 15 (1985).
    Laudan, "More on Bloor" (article in a course reader I have, sans publishing information, sorry).
    Barnes and Edge, Science in Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science (Open University Press, London, 1982).
    Chubin, Sociology of Sciences: an Annotated Bibliography on Invisible Colleges 1972-1981 (Garland Publishing, New York, 1983). ((General bibliography of sociology of science, not limited to the strong programme)).
    Laudan, Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1990).