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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  mythos of technological progress to deny the risks associated with resource depletion and environmental insult. Such scientists point out that technological solutions are far from certain, a probabilistic hope in a domain in which it is very difficult to estimate probabilities, and with high costs for failure. Conversely, conservative politicians and businessmen are quick to emphasize the uncertain and probabilistic nature of science with respect to claims regarding phenomena such as global warming, relative to the certainty of economic and political costs incurred by remedial action. The critique that science is culpable, being a pillar of a culpable society, is a somewhat more challenging objection. If one believes the society in which we live is fundamentally diseased and oppressive, those who are on the institutional payroll are by definition suspect. Of course, that logic would also implicate critical scholars who are academics and who serve the same paymaster. One might argue that critical scholarship does not support such a society but work in the social and physical sciences does; but that is to a considerable extent an argument for the effectuality of one enterprise versus the ineffectuality of the other. In any event, science is a powerful tool, and one that empowers those in a position to employ scientific findings. For those who consider democratic societies on the whole a more decent way to organize a complex society than the available alternatives, of course, the problem is a rather more tractable one. From such a perspective, the question is whether one’s work as a scientist—or a critical scholar, or a shoemaker--contributes positively or negatively, whether it reinforces that which is satisfactory or exacerbates societal flaws. One of the satisfactions of work in the social and physical sciences, given a reformist perspective, 19 is the potential to serve an ameliorative role.

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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mythos of technological progress to deny the risks associated with resource depletion and
environmental insult. Such scientists point out that technological solutions are far from
certain, a probabilistic hope in a domain in which it is very difficult to estimate probabilities,
and with high costs for failure. Conversely, conservative politicians and businessmen are
quick to emphasize the uncertain and probabilistic nature of science with respect to claims
regarding phenomena such as global warming, relative to the certainty of economic and
political costs incurred by remedial action.
The critique that science is culpable, being a pillar of a culpable society, is a
somewhat more challenging objection. If one believes the society in which we live is
fundamentally diseased and oppressive, those who are on the institutional payroll are by
definition suspect. Of course, that logic would also implicate critical scholars who are
academics and who serve the same paymaster. One might argue that critical scholarship
does not support such a society but work in the social and physical sciences does; but that is
to a considerable extent an argument for the effectuality of one enterprise versus the
ineffectuality of the other. In any event, science is a powerful tool, and one that empowers
those in a position to employ scientific findings.
For those who consider democratic societies on the whole a more decent way to
organize a complex society than the available alternatives, of course, the problem is a rather
more tractable one. From such a perspective, the question is whether one’s work as a
scientist—or a critical scholar, or a shoemaker--contributes positively or negatively, whether
it reinforces that which is satisfactory or exacerbates societal flaws. One of the satisfactions
of work in the social and physical sciences, given a reformist perspective,
19
is the potential to
serve an ameliorative role.


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