Imperfect Oracle: The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science

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Overview

Science and its offshoot, technology, enter into the very fabric of our society in so many ways that we cannot imagine life without them. We are surrounded by crises and debates over climate change, stem-cell research, AIDS, evolutionary theory and “intelligent design,” the use of DNA in solving crimes, and many other issues. Society is virtually forced to follow our natural tendency, which is to give great weight to the opinions of scientific experts. How is it that these experts have come to acquire such authority, and just how far does their authority reach? Does specialized knowledge entitle scientists to moral authority as well? How does scientific authority actually function in our society, and what are the countervailing social forces (including those deriving from law, politics, and religion) with which it has to contend?

Theodore Brown seeks to answer such questions in this magisterial work of synthesis about the role of science in society. In Part I, he elucidates the concept of authority and its relation to autonomy, and then traces the historical growth of scientific authority and its place in contemporary American society. In Part II, he analyzes how scientific authority plays out in relation to other social domains, such as law, religion, government, and the public sphere.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Theodore Brown is the ultimate academic all-rounder.”

—Steve Fuller, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

“A very rewarding analysis of the status of science in modern times. . . . Highly recommended.”

—J. W. Dauben, Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271035352
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2009
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Theodore L. Brown is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Founding Director Emeritus of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois. From 1980 to 1986, he served as Vice Chancellor for Research and Dean of the Graduate School there. He is co-author of the best-selling chemistry textbook Chemistry: The Central Science, now in its eleventh edition from Prentice Hall. Besides his scientific research publications, he is also the author of a previous study in the philosophy of science titled Making Truth: Metaphors in Science (2003) as well as Bridging Divides: The Origins of the Beckman Institute at Illinois (2009).

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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface

List of Abbreviations

Introduction 1

Part I Foundations

1. Authority and Autonomy

2. Historical Origins of Scientific Authority

3. American Science

4. Scientific Authority in Contemporary Society

Part II Science in Society

5. Science and the Courts

6. Science and Religion

7. Science and Government

8. Science and the Public

9. The Prospects for Scientific Authority

References

Index

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