OCCASIONALLY we read about a war that is supposed to be going on among philosophers. The war, we are told, is between those who believe in truth and rationality and those who do not. The latter -- the bad guys -- are sometimes called postmodernists, sometimes irrationalists and relativists, and sometimes social constructionists. The good guys believe that science tells us the way things really are; they take the paradigm of rationality to be scientific inquiry, just as the paradigm of truth is the result of that inquiry.
Good guys such as E. O. Wilson and Paul Gross ask us to see natural science as a model for other human activities. They are deeply suspicious of philosophers of science (including Bruno Latour and the late Thomas Kuhn) who describe conflicts between scientific theories in the same terms they use to describe conflicts between moral or political opinions. Wilson and Gross see a big difference between finding and making -- between efforts to learn how things really are and efforts to cobble together artificial entities such as commercial credit and constitutional democracy. Their insistence that natural science enjoys a special relationship to reality has been even more vociferous since the "Sokal hoax," a few years ago, when a scientist named Alan Sokal made fools of some postmodernist nonscientists by getting them to take a rubbishy bit of pseudo-science seriously.
Bad guys, like the people Sokal fooled, think that "postmodern philosophy" -- roughly, the anti-metaphysical doctrines common to Nietzsche, Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida -- has "unmasked" science. Starting with the claim that homosexuality, the Negro race, and womanliness are social constructions, they go on to suggest that quarks and genes probably are too. "Ideology" and "power," they say, have infiltrated sterile laboratories and lurk between the lines of arcane journals of mathematical physics. The very idea of scientific objectivity, they say, is self-deceptive and fraudulent.