How the modern knowledge society came about
Course infoSchedule
Course moduleFTR-FIPPSB308
Credits (ECTS)5
Language of instructionEnglish
Offered byRadboud University; Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies; Opleiding Filosofie;
prof. dr. C.H. Lüthy
Other course modules lecturer
prof. dr. C.H. Lüthy
Other course modules lecturer
Contactperson for the course
prof. dr. C.H. Lüthy
Other course modules lecturer
Academic year2020
SEM2  (25/01/2021 to 29/08/2021)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesNo
Waiting listNo
Placement procedure-
In this course, you will obtain:
  • an historical overview over the birth of modern science, knowledge society and the notion of expertise;
  • an understanding of such simple, yet elusive terms as 'fact', 'expertise', 'knowledge', and 'progress';
  • an understanding of the processes involved in reaching consensus in fact-based policy-making.

You will be trained in:
  • conceptual thinking;
  • dealing with competing world-views;
  • a precise English prose-style;
  • presentation skills.

This course combines an historical with a systematic aim. It introduces you to the historical origins of our modern knowledge society, but also reflects on the very status of ‘knowledge’ and ‘expertise’.

'Science', as we know it today, originated in the seventeenth century. Before then, there was a divide between the skilled craftsman and the learned, bookish scholar. The birth of modern science is often described as the merger of empirical expertise and abstract theorizing, and of the practitioner with the scholar (think of Galileo, Bacon, Kepler, Descartes or Newton). The seventeenth century also invented the category of the ‘fact’ and the figure of the scientific expert. It also witnessed the beginning of the rhetoric of scientific progress and of its benefits for society. The idea that a combination of specialized scientific expertise and collaborative research projects was to lead to ever greater welfare was further developed in the subsequent centuries.

This idea implied an increasing state involvement: school reforms, research universities and state-sponsored research-and-development units were one obvious consequence of this coupling of scientific progress and the wealth of nations. The twentieth century saw both the peak of this state-sponsored development of specialized expertise and its unmaking. The poison gas used in World War I, the atomic bomb of World War II, the logic of "mutually assured destruction" (MAD) during the Cold War, and the environmental problems caused by a technology-driven economy led to a type of distrust in the logic, moral competence and mental sanity of the expert. 

This course will try to achieve two objectives. On the one hand, it will take you through the history of science (from 1700 to now) and introduce you to the evolving ideas concerning expertise and the status of knowledge from the early-modern period up to today. On the other hand, it will examine, from a systematic point of view, conflicting definitions and theories concerning what expertise actually means (realist vs. constructivist definitions); and whether expertise is something individual or is something belonging to groups.

Presumed foreknowledge
Test information
Depending on the number of inscriptions and on corona-related circumstances, you will either get to do a longer final paper and a presentation, or a shorter final paper, a presentation and some reaction papers along the way.
This course is part of a three course module in the Philosophy, Politics and Society bachelor programme. Students can only be admitted if they also take the two associated courses during the same semester (retakes excluded). Students who are NOT enrolled in a bachelor, master, or exchange programme of the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious studies or in a bachelor programme of the Faculty of Arts cannot register directly for PPS modules. Instead, they can apply for admission by sending an e-mail to Such applications must contain a separate document in which you (1) inform us about your current studies, (2) explain which module you want to take and why it is relevant to your studies, and (3) describe what you bring to the classroom. The document must be written in English.
Instructional modes
Lecture and seminar

Test weight1
Test typePaper
OpportunitiesBlock SEM2, Block SEM2