Why efforts to create a scientific basis of morality are neither scientific nor moral
In this illuminating book, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky trace the origins and development of the centuries-long, passionate, but ultimately failed quest to discover a scientific foundation for morality. The “new moral science” led by such figures as E. O. Wilson, Patricia Churchland, Sam Harris, Jonathan Haidt, and Joshua Greene is only the newest manifestation of that quest. Though claims for its accomplishments are often wildly exaggerated, this new iteration has been no more successful than its predecessors. But rather than giving up in the face of this failure, the new moral science has taken a surprising turn. Whereas earlier efforts sought to demonstrate what is right and wrong, the new moral scientists have concluded, ironically, that right and wrong don’t actually exist. Their (perhaps unwitting) moral nihilism turns the science of morality into a social engineering project. If there is nothing moral for science to discover, the science of morality becomes, at best, a feeble program to achieve arbitrary societal goals. Concise and rigorously argued, Science and the Good is a definitive critique of a would-be science that has gained extraordinary influence in public discourse today and an exposé of that project’s darker turn.
James Davison Hunter is LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia. Paul Nedelisky is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.
“Science and the Good is a closely argued, always accessible riposte to those who think scientific study can explain, improve or even supersede morality [. . .] A generous and thoughtful critique”—Simon Ings, The Daily Telegraph
“Well worth reading”—Marcus Arvan, Metascience
"Science and the Good is a compelling critique of half-baked ideas that have acquired pervasive and unwarranted influence in Anglophone public discourse today. One could not ask for a more timely and incisive contribution to contemporary cultural debate."—Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, Rutgers University
"Science and the Good provides an incisive and timely analysis of the pressing question: can science demonstrate what morality is and how we should live? Hunter and Nedelisky carefully expose the inadequacies and dangers of ‘the new science of morality.’"—Peter Harrison, author of The Territories of Science and Religion
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