Koichi Mikami

“For the half a century since he decided to pursue his career in the then young academic discipline of philosophy and history of science, Yoichiro Murakami has undoubtedly been one of the opinion leaders in Japan in the broad area concerned about science”—wrote Yasushi Kakihara and Shigeo Kato, editors of the book Murakami Yoichiro no kagaku-ron: Hihan to outou 村上陽一郎の科学論: 批判と応答 (Yoichiro Murakami’s Science Studies: Critiques and Response), in the introduction (3).1 At the beginning of the 1960s Murakami started his career as a philosopher and historian of science, but his work since the 1990s is more sociological in its style and approach. From this perspective, while the book focuses on the work of this individual scholar, it also provides us with great insight into the historical development of the discipline that is now recognized as science studies in Japan.

The format of this book follows explicitly that of the book series titled the Library of Living Philosophers—starting with a short autobiography and moving on to three summative essays and ten critical pieces written by contributors in philosophy or history of science, each of which engages with the past work of Murakami, followed by a response piece from Murakami himself. The regularly discussed topics in the book are the historiographical methodology that he stresses in his work, the concept of “Secular Revolution” that was presented in his early work, and the “sociological turn” that he underwent in the 1990s. The contributors look at one or two of these topics and discuss them in relation to their own expertise. In the response piece, Murakami categorizes his work under five themes: (1) history of science, (2) philosophy of science, (3) sociology of science, (4) medicine and ethics, and (5) social studies of safety. In doing so, he engages with the critiques of the thirteen contributors. As the editors suggest (3), his ability to move across different themes and engage in discussion with those specialized in each is probably one of the main reasons that he has become an important figure not only within but also beyond the academic discipline of science studies.

When it was suggested that this book deserves to be reviewed in EASTS and introduced to its readers worldwide, we—that is, the editor-in-chief Wen-Hua Kuo, the then-convener of the book review board Honghong Tinn, and myself—decided that, on this particular occasion, we would adopt a new and experimental format of book review for our journal’s “Book Review Forum.” The idea is simple: instead of inviting a scholar to review a book that would be of interest to our readers, we invite several to share their unique insights on the same book. Our hope is that this new format will allow readers to see how differently the book can be read and evaluated from multiple but equally relevant perspectives. We felt this format was particularly appropriate for the present book partly because of the range of topics and issues discussed in it and partly because of the significance of Murakami and his work in the development of science studies in Japan. Coincidently, his first academic publication was in 1968—exactly half a century ago—making reviewing his work quite timely as well.

In this Book Review Forum, we are pleased to have three local reviewers from Japan, Yuya Shimizu, Akihisa Setoguchi, and Yuki Hagiwara, each representing a subdiscipline of science studies—that is, philosophy of science, history of science, and sociology of science, respectively. We encouraged them to engage critically with the work of Murakami as well as the book itself in their reviews. While each review is informative and enjoyable in its own right, they together represent the vibrant and diverse disciplinary cultures of science studies in the country.

Yoichiro Murakami and the Philosophy of Science

Yuya Shimizu

From the point of view of the philosophy of science, Yoichiro Murakami is an exponent of the new philosophy of science in Japan. Partially based on the works of Thomas Kuhn, Norwood Russell Hanson, and Paul Feyerabend, Murakami clearly illustrated the nonuniversality and locality of science in the 1970s. As with other new philosophers of science, most of his philosophical arguments were supported by historical examples. Murakami’s emphasis on the methodological importance of historical consideration in the philosophy of science has a potent influence on Japanese readers to this day. It is noteworthy that although his writings are sometimes seen as antiscientific because they demonstrate that modern science is context dependent and they relativize the metaphysics and epistemology of it, he consistently keeps a favorable attitude toward science itself. Murakami’s criticism of the naive faith in modern science is not a platitudinous backlash against it but is instead a prudent reflection.

Recently, in spite of their significance and influence as described above, Murakami’s writings are not very often referred to in the literature of the philosophy of science, and there may be multiple reasons for this. First, some of the basic ideas of Murakami—or those of the new philosophers of science—become a kind of common understanding today. For example, the idea of theory ladenness of observations or facts is pervasive and not a very controversial topic anymore. Second, the philosophy of science has become more and more specialized in the last thirty years. While Murakami’s work is mainly concerned with the general philosophy of science that addresses the issue of “science” as a whole, this style has obviously declined, and most philosophers of science now focus on its specific fields—physics, biology, psychology, economics, sociology, history, statistics, and so forth. Third, Murakami himself has left the philosophy of science, slowly but surely, as his interest shifted to the sociology of science, the ethics of science and technology, and science and technology studies (STS) during the 1990s.

Nevertheless, these reasons should not override the value of Murakami’s work. In other words, philosophers of science still have good reasons for reading and tackling Murakami’s work. First, even if his basic ideas are now commonplace and not viewed as novel, their conceptual and theoretical refinement should be a perennial task of philosophers of science. Although contention of the new philosophy of science may appear old-fashioned, some pieces of it are and will continue to be important common properties of the philosophy of science. Indeed, to sophisticate our own conceptual and theoretical tools continuously is an important duty for us, the philosophers. Second, specialization in the philosophy of science is not necessarily an appropriate trend. Even though there are few general features of the philosophy in principle, much ordinary practice and institutional design of education, research, policy, and so on still presuppose the very existence of “science.” Additionally, the attempt to construct the general philosophy of science may shed light on the possibility of fruitful unification of scientific fields. The relationship among various fields of science is a difficult and yet attractive problem of philosophy. Therefore, philosophical investigations dealing with “science” as a whole should not be given up entirely. And last, philosophers of science should reconsider Murakami’s shift. It is true that the late works of Murakami do not address philosophical issues much, but this shift might have been motivated by philosophical rationale. To trace Murakami’s sociological turn might provide clues that elucidate the intrinsic connection between philosophy and sociology of science.

Thus, philosophers of science still have good reasons to read Murakami. However, it is not an easy task to catch up with his entire work, as he has written an enormous number of books and articles on a variety of topics. The book Yoichiro Murakami’s Science Studies: Critiques and Response is a very helpful guide to Murakami’s work. The book consists of four parts: Murakami’s autobiography, summary abstracts of his important works, critical essays about him, and a reply from Murakami himself. The summary abstracts effectively introduce outlines of his eleven notable books, and the autobiography and reply articulate Murakami’s academic history and provide some background to his works. On the basis of these articles, readers who are unfamiliar with Murakami’s work can gain access to his thoughts and also examine critical essays. Furthermore, the articles are exceedingly informative in terms of the history of the philosophy of science in Japan during the last half century.

This book has particular significance for philosophers of science. The critical essays include detailed comments on Murakami’s historical arguments by other adept historians of science, including Kenichi Takahashi, Mariko Ogawa, Toru Sakano, and Togo Tsukahara. These comments and the reply from Murakami provide technical information that philosophers cannot easily access by themselves. Yasushi Kakihara skillfully discusses some of the problems associated with Murakami’s sociological turn. Murakami’s shift away from philosophy to sociology might be an obstacle for philosophers of science when addressing his works seriously, as described above. This article gives readers a key to understanding the shift. Another important topic that is addressed in the book is Murakami’s religious background. Some authors cautiously point out that parts of Murakami’s work are implicitly based on his Christian belief. Although the philosophical implication of this point is still unclear, it is indeed worth knowing to get a precise understanding of his work in its entirety.

The book also has some weak points in terms of the philosophy of science. It includes few detailed philosophical discussions on Murakami’s philosophical work with one exception: Shigeo Kato’s article. Most of the contributors are not philosophers of science in the narrow sense. Thus, it might be somewhat unsatisfactory for philosophers of science, especially those who were trained in the analytic tradition. This partially reflects the state of science studies today. Regrettably, recent science studies seems to be divided into roughly two groups. On the one hand, sociology of science, ethics of science and technology, and STS deal with the practice of scientists, the relationship between science and society, and moral and political issues of science. On the other hand, analytic philosophy of science has been engaged in resolving highly detailed and very specific problems. Both groups, needless to say, are important and indispensable. And it is here that Murakami’s work will be a platform to the reintegration of both groups. This book potentially allows philosophers of science to direct their attention to the other way of thinking.

The Ironic Path of Yoichiro Murakami’s History of Science

Akihisa Setoguchi

Yoichiro Murakami’s history of science is deeply related to his philosophy of science—the relativistic view of science. In the 1970s, when criticism of science was at its zenith, Murakami was the most popular scholar in Japan to promote the “new philosophy of science.” He often employed ideas such as Norwood Russell Hanson’s “theory-ladenness of observation” and Thomas Kuhn’s “incommensurability” to argue that science is embedded in the cognitive network of each society. This philosophy led Murakami to his historiography, which emphasizes context. Murakami struggled to revise traditional historiography, which praised the progress of science in the battle against religion. He worked to understand scientists’ thoughts not just as theory but also as part of an overall worldview. For example, Johannes Kepler had mystical motivation, which seems irrational to the modern concept of science. However, Murakami argued that Kepler’s astronomy and mysticism cannot be separated. What historians must do is clarify Kepler’s thought as a whole rather than evaluate it from today’s point of view.

This historiography led Murakami to his grand narrative on the history of Western science. He divided the Western modern period into two parts: the early modern and the late modern. During the early modern period, which is generally considered to be the time of the birth of modern science, scientific thoughts were embedded in the Christian view. Scientists—or natural philosophers, as the word scientist emerged in the nineteenth century, which Murakami often argued in his later works—in the seventeenth century considered the behaviors of nature to be works of God. However, in the eighteenth century, scientists began to discount God when explaining nature. In 1976 Murakami coined the term Secular Revolution to indicate this shift. As Kenichi Takahashi’s chapter notes, this term is not well-known compared to Murakami’s philosophical ideas. However, the concept is crucial to understanding Murakami’s history and philosophy of science. What he attempted to demonstrate through philosophy was that today’s science is embedded in the various values of our society, which are invisible to inside members. The history of Western science reveals that early modern knowledge about nature was deeply connected to religious and mystical values, while science after the Secular Revolution removed most of those values. Therefore, understanding the history of science can help us understand the nature of modern science and thus makes it possible to imagine other possibilities of modern science. In the 1970s, when science seemed to be more problematic than beneficial for human beings, the history of science was commonly considered to be the path to the future among historians.

Murakami’s historiography, which emphasizes context, can still be supported by most of today’s historians. However, his project had inherent difficulties, which are clear from the criticisms by the historians in the book. Strikingly, they criticize Murakami’s history as an oversimplified narrative that ignores crucial details of its context. For example, Takahashi, a historian of early modern science, points out that it is impossible to argue Copernicus’s heliocentric theory was embedded in his religious belief. Mariko Ogawa, a historian of British science, says that even after the Secular Revolution, religion and science were deeply intertwined in England. Both scholars agree that the idea of the Secular Revolution is no longer supported. Likewise, Togo Tsukahara, a historian of Japanese science, says that Murakami believed “Japanese culture” to be monolithic and ignored how science was used in the colonial context. What is ironic is that these criticisms are an inevitable consequence of Murakami’s historiography—contextualism. It seems that Murakami’s philosophy ultimately collided with his own narrative of history. Most importantly, as a result, the history of science also lost its potential to influence the future of science from a broad point of view. The history of science in the 1970s, including Murakami’s, attracted many students who anticipated history would transform science. However, the development of historical research destroyed Murakami’s project from the inside while also disrupting its own critical power.

Then, what is the agenda for today’s historians of science? Scholars offer various answers in this book. Shigeo Kato argues that it is still important to examine and to criticize hidden values in science. Toru Sakano suggests that we should ask questions from other disciplines in history, such as gender and subaltern studies. However, I think historians of science should not cease to ask their own question: what insight can history give to the nature of science?

Two chapters in the book written by philosophers provide us with some suggestions. Keiichi Noe criticizes Murakami’s historiography, questioning whether reconstructing the past can be possible without interference from our present knowledge of later developments. Noe is an active philosopher of history who has argued that historical narratives are constructed through our present network of knowledge. I do not think Noe’s argument means historians should abandon contextualism; instead, historians must recognize that reconstruction of the past is not as simple a task as Murakami believed.

The other possibility involves thinking about science from a different perspective. Murakami argued that modern science has dismissed most of its values as being religious or mythical and that history will offer suggestions for selecting other possibilities. However, Kazuo Seto, a philosopher, asserts that modern science has not been deprived of a variety of values. Rather, when science revises its own theories, the possibility to choose between the old and the new always remains. This does not necessarily mean that science makes “progress” toward a more “universal” theory. Seto says giving people freedom of choice results in the prevalence of “the mechanism of control by science.” For example, in cases such as organ transplantation and genetic modification, there are always choices in the frontier of science. He says the development of science has provided freedom of choice instead of depriving us of all others. This is quite a different view of science from that of Murakami. If we agree with this view, the role of history will not be suggesting various other possibilities but revealing the irresistible controlling power of science.

Functional Tolerance as a Concept to Find a Better Solution

Yuki Hagiwara

The authors of the book Murakami Yoichiro no kagaku-ron: Hihan to outou 村上陽一郎の科学論:批判と応答 (Yoichiro Murakami’s Science Studies: Critiques and Response) specialize in science studies, including history, philosophy, and sociology of science. As the editors of this book state, Yoichiro Murakami has had achievements in these areas of science (3); therefore, in this sense it can be said that Murakami is a historian, a philosopher, and a sociologist. Kenichi Takahashi, a historian of science, points out that those who try to evaluate, criticize, or inherit Murakami’s works will face difficulties as a result of the variety and multidimensional nature of his works (114). There is a commonality in all of Murakami’s work: it always focuses on the relativity of cultures and values. Murakami asserts that trying to understand and solve problems on the basis of a certain value or criterion that is self-evident and static is intellectual laziness (Murakami 1994: 242). He states that the dynamism of human thought will be lost in such a situation. This keen awareness runs throughout all his work.

According to the authors of Murakami Yoichiro no kagaku-ron, Murakami’s achievements can be divided into two periods: he was mainly engaged in history and philosophy of science during the first period and in sociology of science during the second. Yasushi Kakihara considers the transition between the two periods to be a sociological turn (323). After this turn, Murakami became a pioneer of Anzengaku (安全学, safety and security studies) in Japan.

According to Murakami, a main cause of the dangers and risks in the contemporary world, such as the global environmental problems that threaten our safety and security, is the development of science and technology through modernization. He explains the process of modernization from the view of history of science. The Enlightenment attacked Christianity and attempted to liberate people from the control of religion and thus achieve order on the basis of human reason (Murakami 1998: 31). Murakami calls this seizoku kakumei (聖俗革命, Secular Revolution). Human beings became a center or the ruler of the world instead of God after this revolution, and they began to take for granted the power of human reason when arriving at unique solutions. This in itself is a kind of belief, he argues. In other words, human beings unconsciously hold a viewpoint of an omnipotent God, although they have “killed” God as a result of secularization (Murakami 1998: 233).

On the basis of this argument, Murakami proposes we give up the decision making that presupposes the existence of a unique solution. If it is not the unique or the best, a solution will always be tentative. Therefore, the process of seeking an even better solution, which requires the dynamism of human thought, should never end. Murakami says that an individual with this dynamism, who can constantly and self-critically question his or her premises, can then be considered “tolerant.” According to Murakami, the premises in daily life are formed under the influence of nomos, or the regulative power that gives direction to the chaos, molds it into the existing framework of the community, and establishes behavioral codes in an individual (Murakami 2008: 8). A typical example is language; however:

The chaos of an individual always has a surplus part that is not regulated or controlled by nomos. The extent and intensity of this surplus part change[s] and diverge[s] throughout an individual’s life. I call this surplus tolerance or allowance. The word tolerance does not have any moral or ethical meaning, but a functional one. This surplus part allows an individual to be able to behave outside of the regulative power of nomos. (Murakami 2008: 8)

This definition of tolerance shows that an individual who is functionally tolerant is the one who is always trying to find a better solution with the ability of self-criticism.

From 2003 to 2008, Murakami was a leader of the “Research and Education for Peace, Security, and Conviviality” project at the International Christian University. This project was part of the 21st Century Center of Excellence Program sponsored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology in Japan. Functional tolerance theory was a meta-theory of the project. There are many conflicts disturbing the achievement of peace, security, and coexistence in the contemporary world. Moreover, there also are conflicts among ideas and theories when solving problems. Therefore, functional tolerance can be “a means to achieve, not the best, but better peace, security, and kyosei [coexistence]” (Murakami 2011: 21).

Functional tolerance is an essential concept when discussing Murakami’s recent works, but is not sufficiently examined in this book because the articles and essay instead focus on his earlier work. Some authors refer to it only briefly in relation to his methodologies of history and philosophy of science, but the writings reviewed were the ones published before he clearly conceptualized and defined it. Given the equal, if not greater, importance of his recent work, including the concept of functional tolerance, I hope a sequel that focuses on his later career will be published in the future.



The third editor Masaru Kawada passed away in 2014 before the book was completed.


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