Steven Shapin: "Can Science Make You Good?"

Monday, September 23, 2013 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall



The distinction between expertise and virtue is a modern cultural institution. Knowing what is and knowing what ought to be done are seen as quite different capacities, and among the consequences flowing from this difference is that technical experts are thought to  be no better placed than anyone else to offer moral guidance, even when they possess uniquely deep  knowledge of possible outcomes of their technical work. Science just does not make its practitioners virtuous or wise or philosopher-kings.

This talk offers a historical sketch of how these sensibilities came about, roughly from the second part of the nineteenth century, and it discusses some  contemporary sociological consequences of the is/ought distinction.

Steven Shapin is the Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. He has published widely in the historical sociology of scientific knowledge, and his current research interests include historical and contemporary studies of dietetics, the changing languages and practices of taste, the nature of entrepreneurial science, and modern relations between academia and industry. He writes regularly for the London Review of Books and has written for The New Yorker. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and his awards include the J. D. Bernal Prize of the Society for Social Studies of Science (for career contributions to the field), the Ludwik Fleck Prize of 4S and the Robert K. Merton Prize of the American Sociological Association (for A Social History of Truth), the Herbert Dingle Prize of the British Society for the History of Science (for The Scientific Revolution), a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. With Simon Schaffer, he was the 2005 winner of the Erasmus Prize, conferred by HRH the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands, for contributions to European culture, society, or social science.