The Pandemic, The Return of Positivism, and the Forgotten Lesson of Critical Rationalism
The Covid-19 epidemic was accompanied by the resurgence of a positivist mentality. The idea that science is a human enterprise and, therefore, a fallible one seems to have suddenly disappeared from public discourse. In the second half of the twentieth century, positivism seemed out of fashion, while so-called “critical rationalism” had become the dominant paradigm. The situation now seems to be reversed. Faced with a largely unknown phenomenon, physicians and biologists presented their theories as definitive and unappealable truths. Anyone – even experts – who raised doubts about the plausibility of these theories or the effectiveness of the remedies imposed by the political authorities was immediately censored. This article proposes a reconsideration of critical rationalism, presenting it as a form of gnoseological fallibilism and a forgotten lesson of history. The most famous representative of this epistemo-logical approach is perhaps Karl Popper, whose ideas I will briefly touch upon. However, I will focus above all on Gaston Bachelard’s philosophical thought, to show that critical rationalism is not the theory of a single scholar, but a broad cultural movement that has emerged both in the Anglosphere and in the areas of the Romance languages. Besides, Bachelard’s thought is important because it anticipates themes and ways of analysis of the sociology of science. Indeed, it shows how the cumbersome presence of economic interests in the world of contemporary science constitutes an epistemological obstacle and not simply an ethical problem. This is crucial to understand the response of political institutions, the media, and common citizens to the pandemic emergency.
Received 04 May 2022. Revised 14 June 2022. Accepted 01 July 2022. Published online 12 July 2022
Riccardo CampaJagiellonian University in Krakow