Prometheus Books, $28.00, 270 pages
Philosopher Philip Kitcher asks his readers to think differently about science and democracy. Rather than consider what they are (a value-neutral process for investigation the objective world; a process for organizing social life), we should consider what they do. In short, both are forms of ‘social technology,’ co-dependent and mutually reinforcing tools for advancing the human ‘ethical project:’ helping us solve problems, ameliorate needs and choose values.
Kitcher makes strong, lucid points, at the expense of belaboring thinking and an unfortunate tendency to sterilize the frictions that mount in both the pursuit of science and the workings of democracy. The book reads like a non-expert version on the philosophies of pragmatism and utilitarianism, without a more informative discussion of their controversial histories and effective criticisms. That omission neatly smuggles the reader into the debate over how to approach the future without having to deal with fundamental and insoluble questions of identity and value, and their warring passions. But it ruthlessly elides how these questions form the mind of a reader. By opting for a rational, yet ephemeral approach to American culture, Kitcher leaves behind those sensibly committed to the biggest confrontations of the current moment.
Reviewed by Neil Liss