"Science and the Good" by James Davison Hunter

Science and the Good The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality James Davison Hunter, Paul Nedelisky

Foundational Questions in Science
Publication date:
23 Oct 2018
Yale University Press
256 pages: 210 x 140mm
10 b-w illus.

In this brief, illuminating book, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky show why efforts to create a scientific basis of morality—though repeated over the centuries by many thinkers from Jeremy Bentham to E.O. Wilson—are doomed to fail. Science, they argue, cannot tell us how we should live or why we should be good and not evil, and this failure is not because of narrowness or shallowness but a fundamental limitation on the nature of scientific reasoning.
Yet recently, we have seen an active effort to provide scientifically based answers to moral questions, led by such figures as Patricia Churchland and Joshua Greene. Having been unable, however, to find a single instance in which science resolves a moral question—or even provides significant evidence toward resolving one—the new scientists of morality have taken a radical and unprecedented step. Rather than admit their research program’s failure, they have interpreted that failure to mean that morality, because it is not amenable to scientific study, does not exist. Concise and rigorously argued, this book is a major critique of half-baked ideas that have obtained a wholly unwarranted influence in today’s public discourse.

James Davison Hunter is LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia. Paul Nedelisky is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and an associate fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.