Virtue and Scientific Thinking

There’s a price to be paid for a resurgent scientism:  skepticism. So says Steven Shapin for the Boston Review.

Shapin is co-author of the fascinating Leviathan and the Air Pump. Here, he wants to suggest that “[s]hifting attitudes toward [the] relationship between is and ought explain much of our age’s characteristic uncertainty about authority: about whom to trust and what to believe.” Put simply, we trust scientists, but they need to be trustworthy.  And science doesn’t seem equipped to answer questions regarding trust, which are moral questions.

But science once had moral authority.  What happened?  Can it be recovered?  Should it? And so on. Read the piece here.

Shapin’s view contrasts well with those of such popular authors as neuroscientist Sam Harris (whose 2011 book is subtitled “How Science Can Determine Human Values”) and Harvard evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker (who wants those without tenure in the humanities to know that science is not their enemy.)

Those interested in this debate might want to see Leon Wieseltier’s response to Pinker’s “Science is Not Your Enemy” and this piece on Pinker, written by JMC’s Randal Hendrickson.



Ben Franklin_InfrastructuresofCreativity_780To read about JMC’s programming on related matters, see the Commercial Republic Initiative, a three-year national project in which undergraduates study the connection between science and political thought at the time of the Founding and faculty across disciplines collaborate and share resources.  The project is made possible by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.