An Instinct for Truth
Curiosity and the Moral Character of Science
448 pp., 6 x 9 in, No art.
- Published: August 13, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: July 19, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An exploration of the scientific mindset—such character virtues as curiosity, veracity, attentiveness, and humility to evidence—and its importance for science, democracy, and human flourishing.
Exemplary scientists have a characteristic way of viewing the world and their work: their mindset and methods all aim at discovering truths about nature. In An Instinct for Truth, Robert Pennock explores this scientific mindset and argues that what Charles Darwin called “an instinct for truth, knowledge, and discovery” has a tacit moral structure—that it is important not only for scientific excellence and integrity but also for democracy and human flourishing. In an era of “post-truth,” the scientific drive to discover empirical truths has a special value.
Taking a virtue-theoretic perspective, Pennock explores curiosity, veracity, skepticism, humility to evidence, and other scientific virtues and vices. He explains that curiosity is the most distinctive element of the scientific character, by which other norms are shaped; discusses the passionate nature of scientific attentiveness; and calls for science education not only to teach scientific findings and methods but also to nurture the scientific mindset and its core values.
Drawing on historical sources as well as a sociological study of more than a thousand scientists, Pennock's philosophical account is grounded in values that scientists themselves recognize they should aspire to. Pennock argues that epistemic and ethical values are normatively interconnected, and that for science and society to flourish, we need not just a philosophy of science, but a philosophy of the scientist.
“In An Instinct for Truth, a wide-ranging volume on philosophical, historical, religious and sociological aspects of the scientific vocation, Robert T. Pennock shows that not only is curiosity a powerful motivator in the drive for reliable knowledge, it also, if guided by a virtuous scientist, leads to socially beneficial outcomes. Any practicing scientist or student of science can benefit from Pennock's observations about why we do science, or more, how to do science right.”
Rush D. Holt, CEO and Executive Publisher, American Association for the Advancement of Science
“An Instinct for Truth is a very important book. A pioneering exercise in what the author calls 'virtue philosophy of science,' and also, thanks to the empirical research, a groundbreaking exercise in experimental philosophy, Robert Pennock's book explores with much learning and sensitivity the values that guide the scientific mind, showing how great science is a deeply moral endeavor, in great part because the practitioners recognize and respect both the opportunities and restraints of empirical research. This is essential reading for philosophers across the spectrum, epistemologists and ethicists both.”
Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University
“The sculpting of virtuous character is not incidental to doing science right. Objectivity in research requires refined moral dispositions without which our trust in science is unjustifiable. As Robert Pennock demonstrates in this elegant and well-argued work, there is hardly a virtuous habit whose cultivation cannot contribute to the enhancement of science as an honorable and truthful profession. I hope many scientists will read this book. Attending assiduously to Pennock's argument will not only make them better scientists, it will also make them better persons."
John F. Haught, Distinguished Professor of Theology at Georgetown University; author of The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe
“Pennock uses virtue theory to provide valuable new perspectives on philosophy of science and research ethics. All humans are somewhat curious about various aspects of the world, but in science that curiosity is organized and there is independent testing of what individuals have discovered. Not only does science have many practical applications, the moral values at its core can inspire a greater respect for truth-seeking in society at large.”
Noretta Koertge, Emeritus Professor, Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, Indiana University