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Science in a Democratic Society
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A very thoughtful discussion of the role of science in a democratic society. This book is an extension and a signficant modification of his prior book, Science, Truth, and Democracy. In that book, Kitcher put forward the concept of "well ordered science," aform of institutional organization of science that would make it more responsive to real public needs and democratic governance. In Science, Truth,..., Kitcher expressed particular concern with use of science by powerful interests. In Science in a ...., Kitcher has somewhat different major concerns. He is now most concerned with public attacks on science and distrust of science. A good deal of Science in a... is concerned with reconciling a democratic society in which all have a voice in certain basic decisions and the need for specialized knowledge in a complex world.

Kitcher proposes an "epistemic division of labor" in which basic moral and political decisions are developed by some form of democratic process with all having a voice and demarcated areas where specialist knowledge receives deference. To develop well ordered science in this context, Kitcher suggests the development of institutional adjustments in which the democratic public plays a role is some aspects of administering science such as lay input in the selection of important research areas. As a complement, Kitcher encourages scientists to be more cognizant of their public responsibilities and to recognize that science is not "value neutral."

Kitcher does not recommend these changes in a vacuum. He also advocates significant changes in society as a whole. Kitcher presents a precis of another major program which he terms The Ethical Project. Inspired by John Dewey's writings on democracy, Kitcher is suggesting a major reorganization of society on a more democratic, egalitarian basis. Kitcher's program emphasizes efforts to give everyone a voice in basic issues and to provide opportunities for a meaningful life. Kitcher also emphasizes the formation of "public knowledge," the development of some kind of consensus knowledge along democratic lines with respect for expert knowledge.

Like all of Kitcher's work, this book is very thoughtful, carefully argued, and written well. There are some significant problems with Kitcher's analysis and proposals. His analysis of attacks on science appears to be colored by Kitcher's experience with creationism. But many of the current attacks are not the kind of populist disenchantment exemplified by creationism. Many recent attacks are motivated by concern about environmental regulation and result from a poisonous combination of economic interests and scientistic free-market fundamentalism. I think also that Kitcher overemphasizes scientist's resort to value-free science. The biggest defect of Kitcher's scheme, however, is the large changes it would require in society as a whole.

Kitcher's humane, secular, and highly democratic Ethical Project proposal is attractive but would require a major overhaul of our society. Indeed, while Kitcher's version of well-ordered science requires some adjustment of scientific institutions, these adjustments pale in comparison with what would be required by the Ethical Project.

Finally, one of the most striking things about Kitcher's Ethical Project is how much it resembles scientific practice, a clear heritage of Dewey's pragmatism. The discussions of the Ethical Project would exclude the supernatural and appeals to authority, require strong epistemic justification, transparency, and considerable public debate and criticism. In many respects, Kitcher wishes our society as a whole to become more like the best institutional practices of science. Kitcher's well-ordered science requires a well-ordered society reconstructed to resemble the institutional structure of science.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The scientific process is the most important contributor to our growing knowledge about this world. Faced with global issues that demand both research and urgency, the status of science in even the most affluent of societies is continuously called into question. The philosopher Philip Kitcher, recognizing the concerns that many critics have about our world's problems and science, gives a fair but powerful defense of the need for science in society. He addresses the concerns many have about the scientific process, and the social and political factors that play in developing well-ordered research. Emphasizing the need for transparency in scientific research and recognizing the call for democratic considerations in the direction of publicly funded research, Kitcher provides practical insights for developing a secure place for science in modern society.
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on July 15, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Why is the book's authorship not attributed to Kitcher in the hyperlink, but to Susan Schneider?!
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on April 13, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is best described as full. Full of so many thoughts, points, and facts. It brings about many questions of our society, which can be considered for hours.
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