Philip Kitcher, "Science in a Democratic Society" (Prometheus Books, 2011)


Philip Kitcher's Science in a Democratic Society (Prometheus Books, 2011) is an ambitious work that does many things at the same time. It offers a compelling theory of democracy, public knowledge, and a "well-ordered science" that engages the two. It considers the role of values in science and in a larger ethical project of which we are all a part. It also serves as a kind of public philosophy, helping to bring about the very kind of conversation between sciences and society that it calls for, thanks to the clarity of Kitcher's argument and the accessibility of his prose. After characterizing a complex problem in the history and philosophy of science (namely, that of "integrating expertise with democratic values"), Kitcher proceeds to set out a definition of democratic society and describe the challenges that such societies have faced in engaging the public in the production and transmission of scientific knowledge. Not stopping at critique, Kitcher also provides clear and specific suggestions for how we might move forward. In addition to being an important work for scholars interested in the relationship between science and society, Kitcher's book is assignable to university students at all levels. It was incredibly energizing to read the work and to talk with Kitcher about it, I'll be assigning it in future STS courses, and I can't recommend it highly enough. Though nominally about Science (with a capital "S"), Kitcher's work has the potential to transform the way researchers in any field think about the way we conceive and implement the stages of our work.

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