July 5, 2020

Science, Truth, and Democracy. Philip Kitcher. Abstract. What should be the goal of science in a democratic society? Some say, to attain the truth; others deny. Kitcher, Philip, Science, Truth, and Democracy (Oxford Studies in the Philos- Because science policy has been relatively shielded from open democratic. Striving to boldly redirect the philosophy of science, this book by renowned philosopher Philip Kitcher examines the heated debate surrounding the role of.

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Science, Truth, and Democracy.

Kitcher cuts a clear path between those who worship science as a religion and those who fashionably insist that science is merely a set of arbitrary constructs masking power and greed. Against the universal skepticism of post-modernism he argues that science does, indeed, produce knowledge. He phrases his affirmation carefully: Just demcracy the maps we make reveal demoxracy interests of our societies, so scientists, confronted with a potential infinity of things to study, “address the issues that are significant for people at a particular stage in the evolution of human culture.

One risks reducing science to the pursuit of practical goals, leaving no space for fields like cosmology and paleontology. What, then, constitutes valuable scientific knowledge? The answer, says Kitcher, is “commonplace and disappointing to those who expect a grand theory. We are interested in what seems interesting to us and within our capacity to explore.

Science, Truth, and Democracy – Philip Kitcher – Google Books

If science reveals the interests of a society, can a democratic society place limits on science? Do scientists, for instance, have the right to shrug off popularly-held social and moral concerns in the name of pure science or objective research? It takes only a moment’s reflection to recognize that science is never pure, that it is always inextricably linked to its applications, that research is always linked demlcracy technology, and that we can expect the motives of scientists to be no sciencs pure than the motives of the rest of us.

Social and moral concerns, then, remain pertinent from beginning to end. What, then, of the value of free inquiry? Isn’t the scientist’s right to free inquiry absolute? Kitcher addresses the question by asking us to imagine a society with significant inequality.

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Suppose a scientific investigation within that society were to conclude that those on the bottom are there because of natural inferiority. The effects of such a conclusion would be malign. They would simply intensify the state of inferiority. Because of this, there are, in Kitcher’s view, legitimate reasons for placing limits on free inquiry.

Freedom of inquiry, he says, may deemocracy an important precondition of human well-being, demofracy preventing such inquiries as the one that concludes for natural inferiority does something good. It enhances the capacity for free inquiry of those who kitchrr said to be naturally inferior.

Those on the bottom ought to be free to carry on their own investigation, and telling them they are naturally inferior only serves to inhibit that freedom.

Science, Truth, and Democracy

In other words, there should be a fair distribution of the right of free inquiry. It’s an interesting idea. Still, Kitcher shies away from any legal ban on free inquiry because it would intensify suspicion that a prejudicial truth is being deliberately concealed. If absolute freedom of inquiry is not a good thing, what of the value of truth itself? Isn’t knowledge of the truth always and everywhere simply good?

I have attempted a systematic survey of all the possibilities for showing that “truth is better than much profit” and have come up empty Behind the often evangelical rhetoric about the value of knowledge stands a serious theology, an unexamined faith that pursuing inquiry will be good for us, even when it transforms our schemes of values.

It’s time to annd that theology too. We need agnosticism all the way down. A bit later, he notes that “For all the fervor of declarations that the sciences have greatly improved human well-being and the equal ardor with which particular scientific or technological developments have been denounced, we know remarkably little about demoocracy effects of inquiry on the quality of our lives.

He has a personal story to tell. When government funding was sought for research on the human genome, James Watson argued kittcher three percent of the funds should be set aside for investigating the “ethical, legal, and social implications” of the work, ELSI for short. For the many reasons which Kitcher details, this was an important step. But ELSI was doomed to fail because the ethical questions could not be disentangled from political debate.


Though a working group of “committed and knowledgeable people kitchwr a number of different fields” was assembled to consider these moral implications, the NIH denied the group funds, and its chair resigned. A new structure was then promised but never materialized. The dangers to individuals and families from genome research are terrifying.

Science, Truth, and Democracy – Oxford Scholarship

The promised advantage, miracle cures, will be fulfilled, if at all, only in the far distant future. Meanwhile the research goes on, unquestioned and unchecked by any moral or social influence beyond the personal sense of responsibility of individual researchers and those who apply their conclusions.

It is certainly an imperfect world. Myers Fellows Fund Past Programs. Business Ethics The Living War: Science, Truth, and Democracy Most of my students will have nothing to do with science, viewing it not as a human pursuit but an enterprise of outer space beings who have somehow occupied the bodies of their scientific fellow students.

Philip Kitcher, “Science, Truth, and Democracy”

This is, to say the least, a dangerous state of the cultural mind. One book is not going to change the culture my students inhabit, but Kitcher’s Science, Truth, and Democracy offers, if not optimism, at least a certain assurance that science is an ordinary human enterprise responsible to the concerns of the broader community. There is, he tells us, no such thing as an ideal science that gives scientists the right to soar above the concerns of society.

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