The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997

By Wes Williams | Go to book overview

right, then that is as much as we could ever really mean by calling scientific values truths.

And I noted that if the friends of science could be persuaded to be as relativistic about science as they want to be about morality, such an attitude need not compromise the dignity of scientific endeavour. On the contrary: if science is really suffering a deficit of intellectual esteem, then it might get a fillip if scientists were recognised as using their imaginations to invent new ways of objectively apprehending the world and not simply stumbling into objects that were lying around all along. All relativism can really mean, after all, is that judgements are always made in relation to some standard and that these standards depend on specific historical circumstances--on learning a particular calculus, perhaps; or how to use an experimental apparatus; or even sitting in a beautiful old building listening to the Amnesty Lectures and connecting them to memories of school- days or to the books that happen to be on our mind at the time. The fact that knowledge always has individual roots is hardly an argument against its objectivity, and relative truth and progress are still truth and progress. In fact I was finding it increasingly difficult to imagine what other kinds there could be. If the objectivity of science needs defending, then it might be better to start by acknowledging the relativity of our knowledge rather than anxiously trying to deny it. If we could all agree on that, I thought, then future friends of science will reach an understanding with future critics, and we will end up as critical friends of science.


Notes
1.
Samuel Butler, Erewhon: Or Over the Range ( 1872; reprint, London: Jonathan Cape, 1908), pp. 225, 245, 218.
2.
Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy ( 1687), trans. Andrew Motte , rev. Florian Cajori ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1934), vol. 2, pp. 398-399.
3.
George Berkeley, Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, wherein the Chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences, with the Grounds of Scepticism, Atheism and Irreligion, are inquired into ( 1710), pt. 1, sects. 60, 150.
4.
Julien Offray de La Mettrie, L'homme machine ( 1748; reprint, Paris: Pauvert, 1966), pp. 85, 128, 95, 119.
5.
J. B. S. Haldane, Daedalus, or Science and the Future ( London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1923), pp. 78, 57-67. This text was originally issued as part of the "Today and To-morrow" series, edited by C. K. Ogden.
6.
Bertrand Russell, Religion and Science ( London: Thornton, Butterworth, 1935), pp. 237-238, 223, 243.
7.
Bertrand Russell, Icarus, or the Future of Science ( London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1924), pp. 63, 57-58.

-10-

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The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the Oxford Amnesty Lectures ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • 1 - Introduction: Nature, Values, And the Future of Science 1
  • Notes 10
  • 2 - The Values of Science And The Science of Values 11
  • Notes 37
  • 3 - Science with Scruples 42
  • Notes 55
  • 4 - What Shall We Tell The Children? 58
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Is the World Simple Or Complex? 80
  • 6 - Faith in the Truth 95
  • Notes 108
  • 7 - The Myths We Live By 110
  • Notes 131
  • About the Editor And Contributors 133
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