May 19, 2022 • 1HR 43M

Jonathan Rauch: Free Thought, Democracy, and the Nature of Science

The author of Kindly Inquisitors, and The Constitution of Knowledge describes how the social contract that makes the search for truth possible is consistent only with democratic ideals.

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Lawrence M. Krauss
The Origins Podcast features in-depth conversations with some of the most interesting people in the world about the issues that impact all of us in the 21st century. Host, theoretical physicist, lecturer, and author, Lawrence M. Krauss, will be joined by guests from a wide range of fields, including science, the arts, and journalism. The topics discussed on The Origins Podcast reflect the full range of the human experience - exploring science and culture in a way that seeks to entertain, educate, and inspire.
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Jonathan Rauch was 30 years ahead of the curve. In his book Kindly Inquisitors, written in 1993, he described the very mechanisms by which ideology can undermine both the search for truth, and the democratic ideal of free thought—mechanisms which have now become endemic in our society. But more than that, in that book, and in The Constitution of Knowledge, written in 2021 he lays out more clearly than anyone I have ever read, the philosophical and sociological basis of science. The search for truth, and the proper functioning of democratic government both require the same social contract: the implicit acceptance that all ideas are subject to open attack, but that ultimately when the community as a whole has access to open debate and discussion, to the logical attacks and counter-attacks, social consensus can emerge about which ideas remain productive, and which are consigned to the dustbin of history. Science is therefore a social activity every bit as much as governance is. This does not mean that science is a social construct however. It is precisely the need for open debate, without no constraints on whose claims have merit based on authority, gender, race, or religion, that ensures that the search for truth moves in the right direction.

It was a delight and revelation for me to learn, belatedly, about Jonathan’s writing, and to have a chance to discuss some of his ideas in depth in this podcast. He is a gentle, eloquent, and thoughtful soul, and I hope you find the discussion with him as enlightening as I did.

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