The One-Dimensionality of Scientific Relativism

  • János Laki Institute of Philosophy, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences


The historicist approach to science has been accompanied by a spatial one in the last decade or two. Referring to the cultural origin of the fundamental standards, advocates of the “geographical turn” claim that “just as there is a rich history of science, so there is a rich geography of science” (Withers and Livingstone, 2011: 3). The emerging localism is perpendicular to the old historical segmentation and the combination of the two present science as a bunch of quasi-independent cognitive endeavours scattered in time and space. Taking the debate about the existence of the N-ray as an instructive example, I argue that by developing location-independent disciplinary communities, history made the community-structure of science culturally unique. Different historical eras may use incompatible concepts, methodological norms, and epistemological standards, but as this diversity does not extend onto its synchronous dimension, relativism remains one-dimensional in science.