Isabelle Stengers: Cosmopolitics (1996-97–) [FR, EN]

14 December 2012, dusan

Cosmopolitics I.

“From Einstein’s quest for a unified field theory to Stephen Hawking’s belief that we ‘would know the mind of God’ through such a theory, contemporary science—and physics in particular—has claimed that it alone possesses absolute knowledge of the universe. In a sweeping work of philosophical inquiry, originally published in French in seven volumes, Isabelle Stengers builds on her previous intellectual accomplishments to explore the role and authority of science in modern societies and to challenge its pretensions to objectivity, rationality, and truth.

For Stengers, science is a constructive enterprise, a diverse, interdependent, and highly contingent system that does not simply discover preexisting truths but, through specific practices and processes, helps shape them. She addresses conceptual themes crucial for modern science, such as the formation of physical-mathematical intelligibility, from Galilean mechanics and the origin of dynamics to quantum theory, the question of biological reductionism, and the power relations at work in the social and behavioral sciences. Focusing on the polemical and creative aspects of such themes, she argues for an ecology of practices that takes into account how scientific knowledge evolves, the constraints and obligations such practices impose, and the impact they have on the sciences and beyond.

This perspective, which demands that competing practices and interests be taken seriously rather than merely (and often condescendingly) tolerated, poses a profound political and ethical challenge. In place of both absolutism and tolerance, she proposes a cosmopolitics—modeled on the ideal scientific method that considers all assumptions and facts as being open to question—that reintegrates the natural and the social, the modern and the archaic, the scientific and the irrational.”

Cosmopolitics I includes the first three volumes of the original work: The Science Wars; The Invention of Mechanics; and Thermodynamics.

Cosmopolitics II

“Arguing for an “ecology of practices” in the sciences, Isabelle Stengers explores the discordant landscape of knowledge derived from modern science, seeking intellectual consistency among contradictory, confrontational, and mutually exclusive philosophical ambitions and approaches. For Stengers, science is a constructive enterprise, a diverse, interdependent, and highly contingent system that does not simply discover preexisting truths but, through specific practices and processes, helps shape them.

Stengers concludes this philosophical inquiry with a forceful critique of tolerance; it is a fundamentally condescending attitude, she contends, that prevents those worldviews that challenge dominant explanatory systems from being taken seriously. Instead of tolerance, she proposes a “cosmopolitics” that rejects politics as a universal category and allows modern scientific practices to peacefully coexist with other forms of knowledge.

Cosmopolitics II includes the first English-language translations of the last four books: Quantum Mechanics: The End of the Dream; In the Name of the Arrow of Time: Prigogine’s Challenge; Life and Artifice: The Faces of Emergence; and The Curse of Tolerance.

French edition
Publisher La Découverte; Le Plessis-Robinson (Essonne): Synthélabo, Paris, 1996, 1997

English edition
Translated by Robert Bononno
Publisher University of Minnesota Press, 2010, 2011
Posthumanities series
ISBN 0816656878, 9780816656875 (Vol. I)
ISBN 0816656894, 9780816656899 (Vol. II)
312 and 472 pages

Reviews: Steven Shaviro, Michael Halewood (Radical Philosophy).

Author’s lecture on Cosmopolitics, video.

Publisher (EN/1)
Publisher (EN/2)

Cosmopolitiques I: La Guerre des sciences (French, Nov 1996)
Cosmopolitiques III: Thermodynamique: la réalité physique en crise (French, Jan 1997)
Cosmopolitiques VI: La Vie et l’Artifice: visages de l ‘émergence (French, Apr 1997)
Cosmopolitiques VII: Pour en finir avec la tolérance (French, May 1997)
Cosmopolitics I (1-3) (English)
Cosmopolitics II (4-7) (English)


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