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Imperfect Oracle

The Epistemic and Moral Authority of Science

Theodore L. Brown

Publication Year: 2009

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

We all know that science, whether we love it, abide it, or even detest it, is here to stay; we also know that science and technology, in important senses, define modern culture. They are the agents on which much else depends, whether it’s food and fresh water for the world’s billions, or new fabrics ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii

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pp. 1-16

The Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, founded by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992, is a nonprofit legal clinic and criminal justice resource center devoted to exonerating those wrongfully convicted. ...

Part I: Foundations

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1. Authority and Autonomy

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pp. 19-37

Before anything significant can be said about the authority or moral authority of science, we need to be clear on what these words denote. There are several types of authority. Joseph Raz, in his introduction to the 1990 volume Authority, writes: “An authority on medieval coins, or on Chinese eleventh-century porcelain, ...

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2. Historical Origins of Scientific Authority

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pp. 38-66

The encounters with science that occur in the course of people’s everyday lives shape their appraisals of science and how it fits into society. They also ultimately establish how much and what kinds of authority science can exercise. But science’s place in contemporary society is also the product of historical development. ...

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3. American Science

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pp. 67-92

In every nation, region, or culturally identifiable society, the contemporary roles of science owe a great deal to the particulars of history and culture. For example, the capacity of science to exercise epistemic or moral authority is vastly different in a Muslim nation such as Pakistan or Egypt than in a Western nation ...

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4. Scientific Authority in Contemporary Society

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pp. 93-122

Our concern in this book is mainly with the authority of science in society at large, but authority also operates within the scientific community. In either case, reputation counts for a great deal. The authority with which a scientist makes a case for a controversial position ultimately rests on his standing in the scientific community. ...

Part II: Science in Society

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5. Science and the Courts

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pp. 125-165

Because so much of what constitutes the modern world derives from science and technology, it is inevitable that considerations of science and its outcomes are interwoven into nearly every important domain of society: art, law, religion, economics, politics, and government. ...

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6. Science and Religion

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pp. 166-207

The epistemic and moral authority of science in American society are more vigorously and publicly challenged through its conflicts with religion than with any other sector of society. Religion and science are frequently seen to be in dramatic opposition. Consider, for example, the contentious matter of teaching evolution in public schools; ...

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7. Science and Government

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pp. 208-243

This chapter is about the ways in which science exercises epistemic and moral authority in the affairs of government, and how governmental policies and actions in turn constrain the scope and autonomy of science. It is in some sense a continuation of the theme of chapter 3, which dealt with American science. ...

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8. Science and the Public

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pp. 244-269

The scientific discoveries of the past few hundred years have brought with them new, radically different understandings of both the physical world and our human nature. Galileo added experimental studies of the moon, Jupiter, and comets to Copernicus’s model, and in the process made the new heliocentric universe ...

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9. The Prospects for Scientific Authority

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pp. 270-294

I have claimed in this book that it is possible to discern two kinds of authority for science. One of these is expert, or epistemic, authority: the capacity to convincingly speak about features of the natural world. The second is moral authority: the license to argue convincingly about how the world should be. ...


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pp. 295-316


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pp. 317-333

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053394
E-ISBN-10: 0271053399
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271035369
Print-ISBN-10: 0271035366

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 2 tables
Publication Year: 2009