The Liberal Republic of Science, part 4: “A new political science …”

This is the fourth and final post on The Liberal Republic of Science.

The Liberal Republic of Science is a political regime.

Its animating principle is the mutually supportive relationship of liberal democracy and science. The mode of knowing distinctive of science is possible only in a state that denies any institution the power to resolve by authority questions that admit of engagement by reason. Not only is such a state the only one in which the path of empirical knowledge is likely to remain unobstructed by interest and error; it is the only one in which individuals can be expected to develop the individual habits of mind and the collective practices of intellectual exchange that fuel the permanent cycle of conjecture and refutation that is the engine of science.

Science reciprocates. It furnishes liberal democratic citizens with an exquisite model of how to think, and with a stunning and stunningly beautiful spectacle of human discovery.  It also supplies them with a stock of knowledge that enables self-governing people to lead safer, healthier, and more prosperous lives than people who are governed by anyone else in any other way.

But there is a paradox — Popper’s Revenge–built into the constitution of the Liberal Republic of Science. The absence of a single authoritative institution or system for certifying what is known is intrinsic to the conditions that enable us to know collectively so much more than any one of us could ever discern individually. The multiplication of potential certifiers—in the form of aggregations of people converging through the exercise of reason, and the exchange of reasons, on shared ways of life—is a product of the same cultural pluralism that endows us with the dispositions essential to engaging in science’s signature mode of inquiry.

In such conditions, conflicts among the plural communities of certification (even if rare) are statistically certain to arise.  Because they disable the faculty that reasoning individuals use to know what is known to science, such conflicts compromise the capacity of a democratic society to  make use of the immense knowledge that science furnishes them for securing its members’ welfare. And because they pit against one another groups whose members share identity-defining affinities, such conflicts infuse the public deliberations of the Open Society with antagonistic meanings inimical to liberal neutrality.

But history is not driven by supra-individual “spirits” or by inevitable “laws.” The pluralistic certification of truth is not an inherent contradiction; it is a challenge. In fact, it is a problem—a science communication problem—that can be solved, but by only one means.

Responding to the advent of democratic society, Tocqueville famously called for the creation of a “new political science for a world itself quite new.”

Perfecting the Liberal Republic of Science presents still newer challenges of government.  Overcoming them will require a new political science too: a science of science communication aimed at equipping democratic societies with the knowledge, with the institutions, and with the mores necessary to sustain a deliberative environment in which culturally diverse citizens reliably converge on the best available understandings of how to achieve their common ends.

The end!

Nos. OneTwo & Three in this series.

An essay that puts this altogether–provisionally, of course!

For more on this theme, check out Kahan, D.M. What is the “science of science communication”? J. Sci. Comm, 14, 1-12 (2015).

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