Study of the social dimensions of scientific knowledge encompasses the effects of scientific research on human life and social relations, the effects of social relations and values on scientific research, and the social aspects of inquiry itself. Several factors have combined to make these questions salient to contemporary philosophy of science. These factors include the emergence of social movements, like environmentalism and feminism, critical of mainstream science; concerns about the social effects of science-based technologies; epistemological questions made salient by big science; new trends in the history of science, especially the move away from internalist historiography; anti-normative approaches in the sociology of science; turns in philosophy to naturalism and pragmatism. This entry reviews the historical background to current research in this area and features of contemporary science that invite philosophical attention. The philosophical work can roughly be classified into two camps. One acknowledges that scientific inquiry is in fact carried out in social settings and asks whether and how standard epistemology must be supplemented to address this feature. The other treats sociality as a fundamental aspect of knowledge and asks how standard epistemology must be modified from this broadly social perspective. Concerns in the supplementing approach include such matters as trust and answerability raised by multiple authorship, the division of cognitive labor, the reliability of peer review, the challenges of privately funded science, as well as concerns arising from the role of scientific research in society. The reformist approach highlights the challenge to normative philosophy from social, cultural, and feminist studies of science while seeking to develop philosophical models of the social character of scientific knowledge, and treats the questions of the division of cognitive labor, expertise and authority, the interactions of science and society, etc., from the perspective of philosophical models of the irreducibly social character of scientific knowledge.
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