Later On

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Was science the mother of modern democracy?

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Interesting review in New Scientist by A.C. Grayling:

The Science of Liberty: Democracy, reason and the laws of nature by Timothy Ferris

Historians date the beginning of modern times to the period of the late Renaissance, the Reformation and the scientific revolution. These tectonic shifts in the western mind resulted in the 18th-century Enlightenment and the liberal democracies of the 19th and 20th centuries.

This broad-brush picture is a familiar one, and it is, equally broadly, right; but interesting questions remain about the relationship between the strands involved. In this lucid and captivating study, Timothy Ferris argues that the growth of science and the growth of liberal democracy were not merely contemporaneous, but causally connected. The growth of science, he says, caused the growth of democracy – and science continues to underwrite the political freedoms enjoyed by developed societies today.

His argument is not simply that the technological applications of science have promoted wealth-creation, military prowess and security in those nations that have, as a result, become both dominant and free. This is undeniably part of the story. But the more important point for Ferris is that scientific enquiry demands the freedom to enquire and debate, and that liberal democracy – meaning a pluralistic political system in which individual rights, free speech, privacy and autonomy are promoted and defended – is itself an experimental system requiring the same conditions of freedom and openness as science itself.

As he surveys how science influenced the social and political developments of the countries where it flourished, Ferris makes full and (as he acknowledges himself) potentially tendentious use of hindsight. But he keeps the risks in view, and is able to show how matters developed as expected given the influence of scientific styles of thought on social and political questions.

Inevitably, Ferris also addresses the conflict between …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2010 at 6:16 pm

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