Appropriating Wittgenstein: Patterns of Influence and Citation in Realist and Social Constructivist Accounts of Science


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Virginia Tech


In this thesis, I draw attention to patterns at the intersection of (a) interpretations of science in two journals (Philosophy of Science, and Social Studies of Science) and (b) references to Wittgenstein's writings. Interpretations of science can be classed according to the degree to which they support a realist or social constructivist understanding of the entities described by current scientific theories. By tracing the intellectual traditions from which these interpretations emerged, I develop an abstracted classification of these positions. Since this classification does not meaningfully map onto the positions articulated by the writers sampled here (which is telling about intellectual histories generally), I develop a new, more promising scheme of classification. I find that Wittgenstein is appropriated more often in support of social constructivist views of science, but that reasons for this support are generally weak. Using a novel measure of content which I call "appeal-to-authority," I show that there is a significant difference between these journals in their use of Wittgenstein's writings. But there is a subtle methodological argument at work here as well. I show that methods of analysis which rely exclusively on intellectual histories, bibliometrics, and globablizing statements about the products of science suffer serious limitations. In short, this thesis reflexively shows that the methods upon which it is based allow room for considerable bias and manipulation, and thereby implicates many bodies of work built upon these methods.



content analysis, citation analysis, social constructivism, realism, bibliometrics, Wittgenstein, appropriation