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Science, Truth, and Democracy (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Science) Paperback – September 25, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0195165524 ISBN-10: 0195165527 Edition: Hardcover
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Editorial Reviews


"In Science, Truth, and Democracy, this philosopher of science at Columbia University revises and builds on his earlier account to debunk what he refers to as the theology of science-the idea that science is a high calling dedicated to ends that transcend all others-and to oppose the demonization of science...thought-provoking." -- Lewis Wolpert, Science

"Science, Truth, and Democracy is an outstandingly good book; it flashes with the steel of reason."--New York Times Book Review

"Kitcher navigates very skillfully between the extremes of positivistic science-worship and Foucauldian distrust of 'regimes of truth'. His novel and plausible answer to the question 'Why seek scientific truth?' will help bring the increasingly tedious Science Wars to a close. His argument that we need what he calls 'well-ordered science' is an important contribution to political thought."--Richard Rorty, Stanford University

"Mr Kitcher holds that the democratic way of doing this is better than any alternative.... But could it, he asks, serve us better? Does it ignore opportunities for the advancement of knowledge and the betterment of humankind? Yes, he suggests, on both counts. Thanks to [Kitcher, et. al], such questions are being asked again in a serious and responsible way. Science can only be richer and healthier for it."--The Economist

"Kitcher is one of the leading figures in contemporary philosophy of science, and [this book] expounds some significant developments in his general view of the sciences, as well as original treatments of some fundamentally important and increasingly topical will certainly be widely read and discussed by philosophers of science and a good number of scientists and other students of scientists."--John Dupré, University of Exeter

"Philip Kitcher's Science, Truth and Democracy joins generosity to argument. Throughout, Kitcher remains engaged with reason as he tries to understand, critically, the positions of realists, creationists, empiricists, and constructivists. It is a lucid book that should appeal to a wide public interested in current debates about science--from its philosophical status to its policy implications in the age of genomics."--Peter Galison, Mallinckrodt Professor of the History of Science and of Physics, Harvard University

About the Author

Philip Kitcher is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and author of The Nature of Mathematical Knowledge (O.U.P., 1983); The Advancement of Science (O.U.P., 1993); and In Mendel's Mirror (O.U.P., 2003).

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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Science
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Hardcover edition (September 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195165527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195165524
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Kitcher (New York, NY) is John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is the author of twelve books, including Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith; In Mendel's Mirror: Philosophical Reflections on Biology; Science, Truth, and Democracy; and The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities. Professor Kitcher was the first recipient of the Prometheus Prize awarded by the American Philosophical Association for "lifetime contribution to expanding the frontiers of research in philosophy and science." He is also the winner of many other awards, most recently the Award for Distinguished Service to the Columbia Core Curriculum, the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award from Columbia University, the Lannan Foundation Notable Book Award (given for Living with Darwin), and the Friend of Darwin Award (given by the National Committee on Science Education).

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Keith Douglas on December 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Philip Kitcher again shines as a well informed philosopher of science. This book can be regarded as a sequel to his magnum opus _The Advancement of Science_. It deals with the relativists and antirealists quite well, though does presuppose some familiarity with these debates.
However, I find that Kitcher's new position on the nature of science and its relations to society at large suffers from an apparently glaring oversight. He tells us that those who have a stake in the outcome of scientific research should have a say in how it should proceed, be funded, etc.
Since we have long known (and Kitcher himself is aware of the fact) that the outcome of basic scientific research is unknown, i.e. we do not know what position (if any) it will affect, we cannot realistically adopt Kitcher's suggestion. His proposal is emmently sensible in technology, where the goal is not to know but to change or prevent change. But the history of science shows that the proposal of making basic science sensitive to people's interests _that_ way will not work. Further, it is vague, even if it could be done: how do we determine the effect? Christian conservatives like Philip Johnson would curtail or slow research into evolution because he feels it is socially undermining; biologists and
other scientists (rightly) regard this as distressing. Science *should* puncture illusions, as Kitcher points out happens. On the other hand, if the "say" is simply to be a sort of "gripe session" where people can say their piece to scientists, this is a recipe for squabble, or worse, just ignoring people, which is the (perceived) problem in the management of science now.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
This concise and clear book is an extended essay examining the role of science in democratic societies. Kitcher is a well known philosopher of science and this book is an attempt to move philosophical investigations of science as a general phenomenon beyond the relatively narrow epistemic concerns of most philosophy of science. Despite the relative brevity of this book, Kitcher has a relatively ambitious agenda. He wishes to examine the epistemic credentials of science of an enterprise, to explore the consequences of the epistemic reliability of science in terms of its social functions, and to sketch out the proper way democracies should deal with science. Kitcher is particularly concerned with steering a valid course between 2 opposing, almost caricature positions; the view that science has virtually unique moral value and is largely insulated from social influences and the view that science has weak epistemic foundations with the research agenda and results driven by pragmatic and authoritarian concerns.

Kitcher espouses what he terms modest realism; a definite endorsement of the epistemic validity of science with a strong fallibalist orientation. The section of the book in which he deals with attacks on the epistemic validity of science is one of the strongest portions and his fallibalist realism is a strong position. Kitcher, however, suggests that while the methods and achievements of science are definitely valid, the choice of research problems and programs is, however, driven strongly by other concerns. In this sense, Kitcher sees science as hardly insulated from social and personal concerns and in important senses capable of being manipulated in potentially sinister ways.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert E. Pierson on August 15, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Kitcher's Science, Truth and Democracy is an important book but tough to read. Sorry to philosophers, but I'm reviewing as an engineer here and writing this review to encourage fellow scientists and engineers to stick through the rhetoric to get to the final chapter on "Research in an Imperfect World."

Overall, Kitcher make the case FOR science -- that there is objective truth that science can deliver. But the fact that science delivers "truth" doesn't let scientific inquiry off the hook as if "free inquiry" could justify itself as some sort of holy enterprise. Science depends on a conceptual map of reality that determines which questions are significant and which are not. That map is not neutral. It evolves from past maps, so it depends both on history and current context. Which questions we choose to explore (i.e. fund) and which we don't (because funds are limited) have implications. Kitcher makes the case that the pretense of "free inquiry" often masks impacts on exactly those groups that are already disadvantaged in the society. In an ideal world where we value democracy, inquiry must be driven by the collective preference of educated citizens.

But this ideal does not exist. So, Kitcher's final chapter articulates the dilemma many of us face - being entangled in institutions that makes us either willfully ignorant of or functionally impotent to prevent distortions to what is significant and the resulting harm to those who have no voice. What are we to do? Stick through the logical thicket of Kitcher's philosophical argument and you'll find yourself face to face with this ethical challenge.
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