Abstract

An important fact about human labor is that it can result not just in reproduction of what it started with, but in something new, a surplus product. When the latter is a means of production, it makes possible a mechanism of change consisting of reproduction by means of the expanded means of production. Each iteration of the labor process can differ from the preceding one insofar as it incorporates the surplus generated previously. Over the long-term, this cyclical process can lead to the self-transformation of labor and, through it, of human societies and cultures. In this paper, I argue that this mechanism of change is also at work in the history of science. I argue that the form this mechanism takes in science is that of a feedback loop between discovery and instrument construction. This process requires the integration, and transformation into material form, of different kinds of knowledge. Based on this mechanism, I defend a concept of scientific progress as transcendence of the limitations of native human epistemic abilities. I also criticize narrowly biologistic approaches to the history of science for ignoring the role of surplus generation in transforming the labor process, and discuss some problems associated with viewing science as labor.

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