Science Democratised = Expertise Decommissioned

Steve Fuller


Science and expertise have been antithetical forms of knowledge in both the ancient and the modern world, but they appear identical in today’s postmodern world, especially in Science & Technology Studies (STS) literature. The ancient Athenians associated science (epistemé) with the contemplative life afforded to those who lived from inherited wealth. Expertise (techné) was for those lacking property, and hence citizenship. Such people were regularly forced to justify their usefulness to Athenian society. Some foreign merchants, collectively demonised in Plato’s Dialogues as ‘sophists’, appeared so insulting to citizen Socrates, because they dared to alienate aspects of this leisured existence (e.g. the capacity for articulate reasoning) and repackage them as techniques that might be purchased on demand from an expert – that is, a sophist. In effect, the sophists cleverly tried to universalise their own alien status, taking full advantage of the strong analogy that Athenians saw between the governance of the self and the polis. Unfortunately, Plato, the original spin doctor, immortalised Socrates’ laboured and hyperbolic rearguard response to these sly and partially successful attempts at dislodging hereditary privilege...

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