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 year2023
SEM2  (29/01/2024 to 01/09/2024)
Starting block
Course mode
Registration using OSIRISYes
Course open to students from other facultiesYes
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.

This is a bachelor 2 course. For this reason, the level may be described as introductory.
Presumed foreknowledge
Test information
There will be a longer paper at the end, and a number of shorter written assignments in between. They are all of a reflective nature, in the sense of reacting to the readings and themes of the course. Each lesson will start with a couple of student presenting current news items that fit the theme of the course.
This course is part of a module of three courses in the Philosophy, Politics and Society bachelor programme. You can only take this course if you also take the two associated courses during the same semester. If you want to register for the three courses in this module, you must FIRST register for the module itself via the 'Minor' tab in Osiris, and THEN register for the courses themselves. For an overview of modules and their associated courses, see the course guides on the website of the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies.
Instructional modes
Lecture and seminar
Attendance MandatoryYes

Test weight1
Test typePaper
OpportunitiesBlock SEM2, Block SEM2