The Values of Science: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1997

By Wes Williams | Go to book overview

7
The Myths We Live By

Mary Midgley


Neutral or Not?

People answer questions about the values of science in two quite distinct ways today. On the one hand, science is often praised for being value- free--objective, unbiased, neutral, a pure source of facts. Just as often, however, science is spoken of as being itself a source of values, perhaps indeed the only true source of them. For example, the great evolutionist Conrad Waddington wrote in 1941: "Science by itself is able to provide mankind with a way of life which is . . . self-consistent and harmonious. . . . So far as I can see, the scientific attitude of mind is the only one which is, at the present day, adequate to do this" (emphases mine).1 As we shall see, too, many serious theorists have claimed that science is "omnicompetent"--that is, able to answer every kind of question.

Where we meet such clashes, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle and more complicated than it looks. The word science is surely being used with a different meaning in these two claims. We do indeed sometimes think of science as simply an immense store of objective facts, unquestionable facts about such things as measurements, temperatures, and chemical composition. But a store cupboard is, in itself, not very exciting. What makes science into something much grander and more interesting than this is the huge, ever-changing imaginative structure of ideas by which scientists contrive to connect and understand the facts. The general concepts, metaphors, and images which make up this structure cannot possibly be objective and antiseptic in this same way. They grow out of images drawn from everyday life because that's the only place to get them. They relate theory to that everyday life and are meant to influence it. As history shows, these concepts and images change as the way of life around them changes. And after they have been used in

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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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