Who is the Scientist-Subject? A Critique of the Neo-Kantian Scientist-Subject in Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s Objectivity

Esha Shah*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The main focus of this essay is to closely engage with the role of scientist-subjectivity in the making of objectivity in Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s book Objectivity, and Daston’s later and earlier works On Scientific Observation and The Moral Economy of Science. I have posited four challenges to the neo-Kantian and Foucauldian constructions of the co-implication of psychology and epistemology presented in these texts. Firstly, following Jacques Lacan’s work, I have argued that the subject of science constituted by the mode of modern science suffers from paranoia. It is not the fear of subjectivity interfering with objectivity but the impossibility of knowing the truth of the real that causes paranoia. Here, I have argued that it is not the ethos of objectivity that drives epistemology as Daston and Galison suggest, but the pathos of paranoia. The second challenge builds upon Kant’s own denial that the perfect correspondence between the human will and the moral law is possible. Kant himself thought that an ethical human act is impossible without the component of “pathology.” This questions Daston and Galison’s argument that there is always ethical imperative at the core of epistemic virtue. The third challenge contests the way Daston and Galison take appearance for being in their application of the Foucauldian concept of technologies of the self in modeling the master scientist-self. The fourth challenge questions the notion of the psychological and unconscious in the making of epistemology in Daston’s later and earlier work. Against this background, I aim to make a claim that understanding and disclosing “entities” in the scientific domain presupposes an understanding of “being” in general. My goal is to open up the discussion for an alternative conception of the scientist-subject and thereby an affective and existential formulation of science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-138
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Co-implication of psychology and epistemology
  • History of subjectivity
  • Lorraine Daston
  • Neo-Kantian scientist-self
  • Role of affect in science
  • Subjectivity in science


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