The Origins Podcast with Lawrence Krauss

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

May 19, 2022

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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