A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England.This book constitutes a major exploration of the cultural infrastructure of science at a crucial stage in its development. Steven Shapin Steven Shapin is a historian and sociologist of science. He is currently the Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. Before that, he was a professor of sociology at University of California, San Diego, and at the Science Studies Unit, Edinburgh , perhaps the most sophisticated historical sociologist of science currently active in the English-speaking world, investigates with great erudition er·u·di·tion
Deep, extensive learning. See Synonyms at knowledge.
Erudition of editors—Hare.
Noun 1. the norms being established in the era of the so-called scientific revolution, arguing that the key participants sought to apply to scientific transactions the codes governing gentlemanly conduct, believing this to be the best policy for what might otherwise be an inflammatory, divisive and fruitless endeavor. Some critics, Shapin anticipates, might condemn his project as absurd (a social history of truth?); others - and here I'd include myself - would contend that Shapin has put himself to great labor to prove something rather obvious, that shared practices generate collective etiquettes. But to grasp Shapin's insistence on the crucial importance of laying bare the collective norms then being adumbrated for science, it is necessary to contextualize con·tex·tu·al·ize
tr.v. con·tex·tu·al·ized, con·tex·tu·al·iz·ing, con·tex·tu·al·iz·es
To place (a word or idea, for example) in a particular context. his project within intense historiographical controversies regarding the rise of modern science.
Traditional Whiggish explanations of the scientific revolution gave priority to the individual act of discovery. The seventeenth-century savant sa·vant
1. A learned person; a scholar.
2. An idiot savant.
[French, learned, savant, from Old French, present participle of savoir, to know , we were told, quit the library, invented the telescope and the microscope, looked at Nature, harvested facts which refuted Aristotle et al., and ground them into empirical laws in the manner prescribed by Lord Bacon. A later reading, popularized post-War by works such as Herbert Butterfield's The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800 (London: Bell, 1949), was equally individualistic, but by contrast stressed conceptual breakthroughs, leading to Thomas Kuhn's influential notion of "paradigm shifts." Such theories coincided with the high noon of the academic philosophy of science, when Popperians were telling us that science was all about objectivity and hinged on questions of method (the logic of discovery).
Openly or covertly, all such (individualist and idealist) readings were doing battle with the Marxist doctrine that modern science was not just a feat of thought but rather socio-economically necessary: science had arisen to solve the technological bottlenecks produced by early modern capitalism. A middle course between idealism and materialism was meanwhile steered by the sociologist, Robert K. Merton
Robert King Merton (July 4, 1910 – February 23, 2003, born Meyer R. . What became known as the "Merton hypothesis" argued that science did indeed have a cultural basis as well as a cognitive logic, but that this lay essentially in something akin to Max Weber's Protestant ethic - in Calvinist truth and utility imperatives: every believer had a vocation to bear witness and put his talents to use. Puritanism's centrality to the English scientific movement was asserted by Christopher Hill and documented in Charles Webster's magisterial mag·is·te·ri·al
a. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a master or teacher; authoritative: a magisterial account of the history of the English language.
b. The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine, and Reform 1626-1660 (London: Duckworth, 1975). Meanwhile, from the 1960s, the social history of science honed in on further "external factors" shaping scientific thinking, like hermeticism Hermeticism
or Hermetism Italian Ermetismo
Modernist poetic movement originating in Italy in the early 20th century. Works produced within the movement are characterized by unorthodox structure, illogical sequences, and highly subjective language. or magic. Shapin himself has superbly analyzed these debates in a series of articles, notably "History of Science and its Sociological Reconstructions," (History of Science, xx (1982), 157-211) and "Discipline and Bounding: The History and Sociology of Science Sociology of science is the subfield of sociology that deals with the practice of science.
Generally speaking, the sociology of science involves the study of science as a social activity, especially dealing "with the social conditions and effects of science, and with the as Seen Through the Externalism-Internalism Debate," (History of Science, xxx (1993), 333-69); and it is clear that his book emerges out of profound reflection upon such issues.
How then does Shapin himself attempt to resolve the question of how science emerged as a hegemonic knowledge system? A pilot solution was offered some years earlier in his justly-acclaimed Leviathan leviathan (lēvī`əthən), in the Bible, aquatic monster, presumably the crocodile, the whale, or a dragon. It was a symbol of evil to be ultimately defeated by the power of good. and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), co-authored with Simon Schaffer. There it was argued that the new science gained intellectual credibility through embodiment in specific items of apparatus (like air-pumps) used in prescribed ways to perform designated experiments in particular spaces (like the laboratory). The new science triumphed not because of genius or logic but because it was a set of practices conducted by those in the know. A Social History of Truth steps back to explore the deeper cultural legitimations of that phenomenon.
A key question, Shapin correctly sees, concerns believability. The early modem period brought what Herschel Baker in a superb book called Wars of Truth (1952). Authority clashed with authority (Catholic and Protestant, Ancient and Modern), and the bloody battle of the books drove some towards scepticism and others to fideism fi·de·ism
Reliance on faith alone rather than scientific reasoning or philosophy in questions of religion.
[Probably from French fidéïsme, from Latin - a problem Descartes solved to his satisfaction by the method of universal doubt, falling back upon the only ultimate certainty: clear and distinct ideas.
In England, however, Shapin argues, the problem of truth was essentially settled less in a philosophical than in a personal manner. Scientific knowledge, it came to be agreed, was to be built upon trust, and the people you could trust were gentlemen. As Shapin explains via a lengthy exposition of courtesy manuals that will be well-known to social historians but perhaps unfamiliar to historians of science, the Renaissance code of gentility set great store by probity PROBITY. Justice, honesty. A man of probity is one who loves justice and honesty, and who dislikes the contrary. Wolff, Dr. de la Nat. Sec. 772. . A gentleman's word was his bond, and the worst fate that could befall be·fall
v. be·fell , be·fall·en , be·fall·ing, be·falls
To come to pass; happen.
To happen to. See Synonyms at happen. a gentleman was to be given the lie (honor would demand that he offer a challenge). A gentleman, and he alone, could be expected to pay truth due respect - the respect essential for the advancement of natural knowledge - because a gentleman was independent, beholden be·hold·en
Owing something, such as gratitude, to another; indebted.
[Middle English biholden, past participle of biholden, to observe; see behold. to none.
After exploring the different elements constituting the virtuous gentleman, Shapin uses the Hon. Robert Boyle in a substantial biographical chapter as an exemplar of that ideal. With gentlemen like Boyle around, achieving the veracity veracity (vras´itē),
n yet also civility the new science required if it was to function as a cooperative, non-confrontational activity became a matter of aristocratic honor (one is tempted to say Peer review).
It is not clear precisely how much Shapin thinks he has explained. What he has done very ably is to explicate the ideals of conduct framed by some of the leading members of the scientific community that crystallized crys·tal·lize also crys·tal·ize
v. crys·tal·lized also crys·tal·ized, crys·tal·liz·ing also crys·tal·iz·ing, crys·tal·liz·es also crys·tal·iz·es
1. in the Royal Society. The enunciation enunciation
n an auxiliary function of teeth, particularly those in the anterior sector of the dental arch; the formation of sounds of an exclusive esprit de corps esprit de corps Graduate education The degree of happiness of the 'campers' in a place was central to Bishop Sprat's History of the Royal Society (1667) and other propaganda works designed to convince the world that the Society (and hence natural philosophy) was polite, while disparaging dis·par·age
tr.v. dis·par·aged, dis·par·ag·ing, dis·par·ag·es
1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. See Synonyms at decry.
2. To reduce in esteem or rank. other sources of opinion (the "vulgar," pedants, and so forth). The New Science thus bought into the existing social-prestige system and so ensured its future as a socio-cultural enterprise - and for that reason, Shapin insists, the historian probing seventeenth-century science must inescapably see it as a social endeavor.
Yet it is a pity that, in making out this case for the "gentle" fabrication fabrication (fab´rikā´shn),
n the construction or making of a restoration. of truth, Shapin declines to engage with objections and counter-possibilities. After all, many contemporaries reckoned patrician mores extremely inappropriate for enterprises like science. Were not aristocrats courtly, didn't they value rhetoric over veracity, weren't they precisely the type whose word you couldn't trust? - "Here lies our sovereign Lord the King, Whose man no word relies on," ran the Earl of Rochester's mock epitaph epitaph, strictly, an inscription on a tomb; by extension, a statement, usually in verse, commemorating the dead. The earliest such inscriptions are those found on Egyptian sarcophagi. on Charles II himself, the Society's patron. Not least, weren't they always running to duels? Therein lay one reason why, at the dawn of the Enlightenment, writers like Addison and Steele made reform of noble values such a high priority. Therein too lies part of the reason why Merton, Webster and others argued for the specifically Christian ethos of mid-seventeenth century English science. But such interpretations get little evaluation from Shapin (Webster does not even appear in the index). Not least, if the new science was to be vouchsafed by gentlemen, why did it choose as its motto nullius in verba: on the word of no person? This might have been a cue for discussing how far the new science might be seen as operating not within gentlemanly codes but a new public sphere.
This is a rich and stimulating analysis of what might be called the "civilizing process" applied to science; Restoration century science will not look the same again. But it is unfortunate that, in a somewhat oddly constructed book, so much space has been given over to establishing the background gentlemanly code of honor that Shapin has not left himself room fully to explore its actual workings within the scientific movement at large.
Roy Porter Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine