Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Keynote

Doing the Right Thing in Science: A History of a Moving Target

  • Steven Shapin (Harvard)
25 January 2018
Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden


Steven Shapin is the Franklin L. Ford Research Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. His books include Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985 [new ed. 2011]; with Simon Schaffer), A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1994), The Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1996; now translated into 16 languages), and The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation (University of Chicago Press, 2008). His current research interests include historical and contemporary studies of dietetics, the changing languages and practices of taste, the nature of entrepreneurial science, and modern relations between academia and industry.


It is intelligible to say that scientific activity, like any other human practice, is rule-governed, and there have been many attempts to say what its rules of right conduct are. Yet, over historical time and between a range of scientific practices, articulations of those rules have been very variable. Many rules that have been celebrated as leading to good outcomes have, at other times and in other contexts, been warned against as leading to epistemic vice. Two questions: First, how can one think of science as governed by rules when those rules are evidently unstable? Second, what can account for the appeal of any one version of rules for right scientific conduct?


Shapin’s lecture is the opening address of a conference on “Epistemic Vices: Continuities and  Discontinuities, 1600-2000”, organized by Herman Paul (Institute for History) in the context of his NWO (Vidi) project on “The Scholarly Self.” More information: h.j.paul@hum.leidenuniv.nl