There are very few STS books written and published in Bahasa Indonesia; only those of which I am familiar are all written and published in English.1 This makes Epistemologi dasar: pengantar filfasat pengetahuan [Basic Epistemology: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Knowledge] the closest to what I would consider an STS book. It explores how we know what we know and the different ways of knowing. Sudarminta, the book’s author, also draws from Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970) and Steve Fuller’s Social Epistemology (1991), two texts that I am sure many STS scholars are familiar with or at least have heard about.

Epistemologi dasar is not a recently published book, but like many good books, it has a long shelf life.2 This book was written by Justinus Sudarminta, a Jesuit priest and professor of philosophy at Sekolah Tinggi Filsafat Driyarkara, a private university in Jakarta. Founded in 1969, the institution was named after the late Dr. Nicolaus Driyarkara, a professor of philosophy who taught at the University of Indonesia and Sanata Dharma Teachers’ College.3 At the time the book was published, Sudarminta also served as an adjunct professor of philosophy at the Catholic University Atma Jaya and at the University of Indonesia’s Graduate School, both in Jakarta. He obtained his PhD in philosophy at Fordham University with a dissertation titled Toward an Integrative View of Science and Value: A Study of Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism as an Integral View (1988).

Epistemologi Dasar is written mainly as a textbook.4 It consists of eleven main chapters plus the introduction and conclusion. The majority of the chapters are written concisely but clearly. An average chapter is thirteen pages, with the longest (chapter 11) having twenty-five pages and the shortest (chapters 4 and 7) having eight pages each. These chapters are probably brief for two main reasons: First, in order to keep the price of the book low and affordable for students, the author needed to write a concise text instead of a voluminous tome. Second, the author wanted to convey that clear and succinct explanations of a branch of philosophy—a subject known to be laden with concepts, categories, and different streams of thought—can be achieved. For the most part, Sudarminta did a very good job in presenting the materials articulately. In general, I had little problem following his highly structured discussion. To me, reading each chapter was like listening to a well-prepared lecture given by the author.

Sudarminta covers a different topic of epistemology in each chapter. Beginning with chapter 1, he explains what epistemology is and makes the case persuasively for the need to learn this particular subfield of philosophy. In chapter 2, he describes the eight factors underlying our need to know as human beings (experience, memory, witness, curiosity, mental faculty, logic, language, and human need). It is in this chapter that he makes one of the most important points in the book. He writes, “Kegiatan mengetahui merupakan bagian hakiki dari cara berada manusia” (knowing is a mode of being) (43). This crucial insight is why it is important, Sudarminta argues, to understand why and how we know things, because to know or to seek knowledge is part and parcel of being human. Chapter 3 discusses skepticism, subjectivism, and relativism. Chapters 4 and 5 cover different modes of knowing including our awareness, intentions, and what we can and cannot perceive using our senses. Chapter 6 discusses the role and problems of concepts. It addresses the first of the two questions when one wants to understand something: What is it? The second question–Is it so?–is the topic of chapter 7. It elaborates how we decide to accept or reject truth claims. Chapter 8 elaborates on the a priori aspect of knowledge, focusing in particular on the theory of moderate realism. For someone with little background in philosophy, chapters 7 and 8 are the most challenging to comprehend. It is less about the way it is written than about Sudarminta’s assumptions that his readers have prior knowledge on Kant’s and Lonergan’s theories of knowledge. But, then again, these two chapters were translated and adapted from another text. Here I think he could have provided more background information to help the readers. The next two chapters (9 and 10), on truth and falsehood and theories of justification (foundationalism, epistemic coherentism, internalism, and externalism), respectively, are better explained than the previous two chapters. Finally, in chapter 11, the author discusses three types of knowledge (scientific, moral, and religious) by describing the strengths and weaknesses of each type.

Overall, the book is a good college-level text. Although it is written mainly as an undergraduate philosophy textbook, the book mentions the insights of science and technology studies scholarship. For example, Sudarminta writes that the idea that science is value-neutral must be rejected since “scientific activities [are] human activities that cannot be detached from values, principles, and normative ethics” (191). In another instance, he explains the contingent, contextual, and fallible nature of scientific knowledge (168). All of these understandings, Sudarminta writes, are so that “we don’t see things in black and white and to make absolute truth claims and force them on others” (193). This book encourages its readers to be more critical about knowledge, truth claims, and destructive actions made based on them. It also invites students to be more open-minded to multiple ways of knowing and to not always privilege only one type of knowledge.

In the age of “post-truth” and “alternative facts,” I think Sudarminta’s text is highly relevant. I just hope that his textbook will be taught and discussed more widely in Indonesia’s colleges and universities.

Notes

1

Published monograph-length works written by Indonesian STS scholars that I am aware of are Merlyna Lim’s @rchipelago Online: the Internet and Political Activism in Indonesia (2005), which is her finished dissertation completed at the University of Twente, and Sulfikar Amir’s The Technological State in Indonesia: The Co-constitution of High Technology and Authoritarian Politics (2012), which I previously reviewed for this journal. Of course, non-Indonesian scholars have also produced STS-informed books about the Netherlands East Indies (how Indonesia was known when it was a Dutch colony) and about postindependence Indonesia. These include Rudolf Mrazek’s Engineers of Happy Land (2002), Suzanne Moon’s Technology and Ethical Idealism (2007), Andrew Goss’s The Floracrats (2011), Vivek Neelakantan’s Science, Public Health and Nation-Building in Soekarno-Era Indonesia (2017), and most recently Hans Pols’ Nurturing Indonesia (2018).

2

The copy that I have was in its ninth printing in 2010, and copies of the book are still being sold on an Indonesian online retail store (www.bukalapak.com).

3

Institut Keguruan dan Ilmu Pendidikan Sanata Dharma was transformed into a university in 1993. Now it is called Sanata Dharma University. It is a Jesuit university in the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

4

The author claims in the introduction that, even though there was another book written on the same subject by P. H. Hardono, which was a selective translation of Kenneth T. Gallagher’s The Philosophy of Knowledge (1988), his book was not meant to replace it. Rather, he wrote, it was meant to complement it. Even the materials for his own book, Sudarminta freely admitted, are not fully his own. Much of what he wrote for chapters 3 through 8 is drawn from Vincent G. Potter’s On Understanding Understanding: A Philosophy of Knowledge (1994), and chapter 11 from chapter 9 of Robert Audi’s Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (1988). Many Indonesian textbooks written by Indonesian scholars are typically of this mold. Realizing that there is a lack of good Indonesian books to use in their courses, many instructors set about to write ones on their own by translating and synthesizing important and influential texts in their fields.