Epistemology and Enology: a philosophical reflection on how we gain and use knowledge in the wine industry Part 3

At the scientific revolution around the Renaissance, a reliance on scientific observation as the primary source of all knowledge was born. Richard Tarnas has written a wonderful history of western thought entitled The Passion of the Western Mind. In it he characterizes the optimism of the age following the birth of modern science as directly tied to confidence in science and in its powers to improve indefinitely the state of human knowledge, health, and general welfare. This was true up to the early 20th century when the foundations of math and physics were shaken by, amongst other things, the theory of relativity. When this occurred the rebellion that had been brewing in other disciplines (such as philosophy) due to the emphasis on the individual began to sprout as sciences hold on base knowledge loosened. Suddenly it seemed scientific knowledge was confined to abstractions, symbols, and shadows not actual knowledge of the world itself. This ultimately led to our current Postmodern intellectual situation.


But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. While recognizing both an essential autonomy in the human being and a radical plasticity in the nature of reality we find ourselves in a challenging intellectual position that begins with the assertion that reality itself tends to unfold in response to [a] particular set of assumptions that are employed by each individual and each society. Based on these observations of western thought one would predict that a contextual interpretation of data will be seen more and more. Is this not what we do in the winemaking industry? First, there seems to be great skepticism regarding scientific knowledge and recommendations based on such data. Second, one might say, Well you may have observed that with your site, or your yeast strain, but what I see is x, y, zor different. Third, scientist operating under their set of assumptions tend to discount or even entirely disregard empirical data coming from the industry, doubting its validity. Therefore as I said before the risk of course is that people tend to begin to think that their practices (in their context) are impacting the wine and therefore their beliefs about winemaking begin to cloud their knowledge of winemaking and their ability to learn. This can lead us to a chaos of valuable but seemingly incompatible interpretations with no resolution in sight. Yikes!