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Week 1: Truth

Tutors: Dr James Poskett

How can "truth" have a history? In this seminar, we explore attempts by historians of science to write the "social history of truth". We consider whether this is a good idea or not, analytically and politically. And we reflect on the relationship between this history and the present "post-truth" age.

Seminar Questions

  • What does it mean for 'truth' to have a history? What kind of history is this?
  • Does Shapin's account of 'truth' imply relativism? Is this a problem?
  • How does the history of truth relate to the present?

Essential Readings

Shapin, Steven, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1994), you are encouraged to read as much as possible, but focus particularly on "The Argument Summarized", Chapter One, Chapter Two, and Epilogue.

Shapin, Steven, "Is there a crisis of truth?", LA Review of Books, 2 December 2019.

Further Readings

Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison, Objectivity (Zone Books, 2010)

Foucault, Michel, "Truth and Power," in Colin Gordon, ed., Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977 (Pantheon Books, 1980)

Golinski, Jan, Making Natural Knowledge: Constructivism and the History of Science (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2005)

Latour, Bruno, We Have Never Been Modern (Harvard University Press, 1991)

Oreskes, Naomi, Why Trust Science (Princeton University Press, 2019)

Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (New York: Bloomsbury, 2010)

Poovey, Mary, A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Porter, Theodore M, Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (Princeton University Press, 1996)

Poskett, James, "Science in history," Historical Journal, published online November 2018.

Rosenfeld, Sophia, Democracy and Truth: A Short History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019)

Shapin, Steven, ‘History of science and its sociological reconstructions’, History of Science, 20 (1982)

Shapin, Steven, Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Made by People with Bodies, Situated in Space, Time, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)

Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985)