MY AMERICAN SCIENTIST
LOG IN! REGISTER!
SEARCH
 
RSS
Logo IMG
HOME > PAST ISSUE > Article Detail

LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Humanizing Science

To the Editors:

Geoffreys Harpham's essay "Science and the Theft of Humanity" (Macroscope, July-August) calls on humanists to be tolerant of scientists' recent preoccupation with questions about human beings long considered to be the intellectual property of the humanities alone.

As a historian, I have noted this trend. Although I agree that cross-fertilization across disciplinary boundaries is essential to lively debate and creativity, a conflict of styles often impedes communication. During the past half century humanists have all but given up positivism as a scholarly position. Acceptance of a plurality of valid arguments has become the humanistic norm, and respect for varied viewpoints is expected.

Scientific writers on human subjects, in contrast, tend to sift what they judge to be "true" positions from erroneous ones, ostensibly in hopes of furthering intellectual "progress." The irony—commonly recognized—is that humanists have embraced Thomas Kuhn's argument for the inevitable limitations of inquiry, while scientists, Kuhn's original subjects, remain far more loyal to traditional empiricism.

In this clash of cultures, scientists at the very least come off as arrogant in the eyes of humanists and, more seriously, tend to make preemptory judgments about unfamiliar material in their rush to prove a case without room for nuance.

We would not expect self-conscious modesty from someone perpetrating a "theft," to borrow Dr. Harpham's term. But if the relationship between the disciplines is to be friendly collaboration, scientists might well proceed with greater understanding of humanists' values.

Anne C. Rose
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

 

EMAIL TO A FRIEND :

Subscribe to American Scientist