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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Science is not morally neutral

In an article in The New Atlantis, Yuval Levin argues that science is not a morally neutral enterprise. He writes that, on the contrary, " . . . modern science was a profoundly moral enterprise, aimed at improving the condition of the human race, relieving suffering, enhancing health, and enriching life." One of Levin's sources for this is Francis Bacon. But Descartes also wrote, says Levin, in a similar vein, and in his Discourse on Method, he said that the "conservation of health" was the greatest good.

Here is Descartes, in his own words (translated into English):
". . . the preservation of health, which is without doubt, of all the blessings of this life, the first and fundamental one;" (public domain)

What's wrong with that? Levin says that this idea, that health is the primary good, is the unspoken assumption behind much of what we do today, not just in science. (He didn't say it, but consider hospitals. They are always adding on and remodeling, while, at least where I live, public schools are in outmoded, cramped, and even dangerous buildings. That says something very loud about our priorities.)

Levin does say this "And so when the pursuit of health through science and medicine conflicts with even the deepest commitments of modern life—to equality, to rights, to self-government, or to protection of the weak—science and medicine typically carry the day."

In his concluding paragraph, Levin writes that "The real challenge lies not in the tools that science gives us, but in the attitudes it forms in us. The trouble is not that technology can be used for both good and evil, but that people in the age of technology may have real trouble telling the difference between the two."

This is a warning that we should certainly heed.

Thanks for reading.


Mirtika said...

If good health includes good health of the soul, well....But they'd have to actually believe in the soul to put that up there in priority ranking.


Martin LaBar said...

Good health should include good health of the soul, but that's not part of the mission statement of our health care "system," by and large.


Rob Rumfelt said...

This article demonstrates that there is quite a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Martin LaBar said...

Yes. Thanks, rob.