The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research

By Sidney Hook; Paul Kurtz et al. | Go to book overview

The Ethics of Free Inquiry

Paul Kurtz
State University of New York at Buffalo

History records the continuing efforts to censor free inquiry. We are all too familiar with the attempts by theologians to prohibit free thought. Obstacles were placed in the way of each new development in science — usually in the name of God and in opposition to "blasphemy" and "heresy." Galileo was condemned for contesting the orthodox theistic view of the universe; Darwin, for his dangerous theory of evolution; and Freud, for his novel interpretations of human nature. In the long struggle between religion and science, higher religious "truths" were called on to restrict the range of scientific investigation.

Similar calls for censorship have been made in the name of politics, economics, and ideology. Vested interests have often opposed new ideas that are considered seditious to the established order. Since the time of Socrates, we have been familiar with the repression of inquiry for political ends. In our time, Nazi racist theories prohibited non-Aryan physics and social science, Stalinism banned those scientific theories that ignored dialectical materialism, and Lysenkoism exorcised genetic theories that contradicted its environmentalist dogma.

Today there are similar efforts to limit scientific research, but now they are made primarily on ethical grounds.

In the conflict between free inquiry and censorship, science presupposes conditions of freedom that may themselves be justified on ethical grounds. The arguments are basically utilitarian in character: We ought to be committed to free inquiry because of long-range conse

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