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History of the Human Sciences, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1-25 (2005)
DOI: 10.1177/0952695105058468

Does reflexivity separate the human sciences from the natural sciences?

Roger Smith

Obolenskii per. 2-66, 119021 Moscow, Russian Federationrsmith{at}mail.ru

A number of writers have picked out the way knowledge in the human sciences reflexively alters the human subject as what separates these sciences from the natural sciences. Furthermore, they take this reflexivity to be a condition of moral existence. The article sympathetically examines this emphasis on reflexive processes, but it rejects the particular conclusion that the reflexive phenomenon enables us to demarcate the human sciences. The first sections analyse the different meanings that references to reflexivity have in the psychological and social sciences, in philosophy and in material life, and they link these meanings to the post-positivist philosophy of the social sciences. The discussion considers the problems raised (most influentially in the human sciences by Foucault) by being reflexive about reflexivity itself. They put a large question mark against hopes for a revived philosophical anthropology. Whatever the philosophical arguments, however, there is clearly a reflexive practice in the humanities and human sciences which there is not in the natural sciences. This leads to the argument that there are different forms of knowledge for different purposes and that it may therefore be divergence of purpose, not reflexivity itself, that creates differences among the sciences. It is the fact and purpose of human self-reflection that marks out the human sciences. If this is so, then it explains why an apparently circumscribed question about the classification of knowledge turns out to be inseparable from ontological and moral questions about human identity.

Key Words: classification of knowledge Foucault human science natural science philosophical anthropology reflexivity


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