A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Science and Its Conceptual Foundations s) 1st Edition

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226750194
ISBN-10: 0226750191
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Shapin argues that the validity and trust we place in today's scientific endeavors evolved to a large extent out of the gentlemen's codes of civility in 17th-century England. Science was a gentleman's pastime, and when an idea was disputed gentlemen appropriated the civil codes of their time to solve the dispute. Shapin, best known for Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton Univ. Pr., 1985), opens this book with a very complete and sometimes difficult-to-read introduction to the questions of what civility, truth, trust, and moral order are. The rest can be read separately as a history of gentlemanly conduct and gentlemanly science as a means of finding truth. Shapin also discusses Robert Boyle as an example of a gentleman scientist. Offering a new way to look at early modern science, Shapin presents an intellectual history of a formative period of English science to illustrate a source of the collective trust we place in scientific truth. Recommended for history and philosophy collections.
Eric D. Albright, Galter Health Sciences Lib., Northwestern Univ., Chicago
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Science and Its Conceptual Foundations s
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226750191
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226750194
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #441,146 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Brian Slesinsky on April 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Many popular books about science (especially about evolution) set scientists up as skeptics who argue for knowledge based on experience and facts, rather than authority. If you think science is about being skeptical, you might find this book interesting because it argues for the importance of trust and belief in authority in all scientific work. I found the history interesting as well, including descriptions of several of Boyle's eperiments, a debate about the path of a comet, and a 17th century nondisclosure agreement. The main downside for the layman is that book can be slow going and is not an easy read. There's a lot of generalizing about what 17th century gentleman and scientists were like that I think would have been more entertainingly done through narrative and anecdote rather than bland quotations. Still, all in all this is an informative book about the philosophy of science.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By S. E. Koscak on April 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
In this study, largely influenced by sociological theory, Steven Shapin explores the origins and practices of the seventeenth-century English experimental philosophy. He contends that this is "a story about the gentlemanly constitution of scientific truth . . . preexisting gentlemanly practices provided working solutions to problems of credibility and trust which presented themselves at the core of the new empirical science of seventeenth-century England" (p. xxi). Making use of gentlemanly advice books and courtesy texts while closely following the scientific career and philosophical publications of Robert Boyle, a founding member of the Royal Society of London, Shapin shows that Boyle was a central figure in the creation of a Christian gentlemanly discourse of natural philosophy.

As is widely accepted, the distinguishing feature of seventeenth-century English science was the reevaluation and erosion of ancient knowledge-claims and testimony in favor of observational and experimental empirical science. According to Shapin, "this rejection of authority and testimony in favor of individual sense-experience is just what stands behind our recognition of seventeenth-century practitioners as `moderns,' as `like us,' and, indeed, as producers of the thing we can warrant as `science'" (p. 201). However, Shapin perceptively challenges the notion that all forms of testimony were eliminated from the realm of empirical science - natural philosophy required a reliance on the findings of others when experiments produced could not be replicated, while one's own experiences could never achieve credulity within a scientific community without testimony.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By W. McConnell on October 7, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A Social History of Truth covers a lot of territory and the author, Steven Shapin, leaves no stone unturned. I appreciate the elevated writing style, the book's straight forward composition, and the thorough manner in which each aspect of the topic is covered. From its simple definition of truth to the complex interlacing of truth, honesty, and honor and their impact on the development of the scientific method, Professor Shapin's book provides a reader with a fulfilling understanding of the consequences of truth in societal development. One cannot put this book down without concluding that respect for truth and honesty is the cornerstone to science, society and human destiny. So long as truth is respected humanity moves forward; when it is neglected expect scientific stagnation and societal decline. The author explains it a lot better than I just did. You need to read the book.
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