The Limits of Knowledge: Personal and Public
Issues in Science and Technology: Applying New Research to Improve Science Education, Fall 2012
10 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2013 Last revised: 19 Mar 2014
Date Written: 2012
One of the most basic assumptions underlying much of Western thinking is that individuals are rational beings, able to form judgments based on empirical information and logical deliberations in their quest for a course of action most suited to advancing their goals. This is assumed to be true for personal choices and for societal ones — that is, for public policies. A common narrative is that people used to be swayed by myths, folktales, and rituals (with religion sometimes added in), but the Enlightenment ushered in the Age of Reason, in which we are increasingly freed from traditional beliefs and instead rely on the findings of science. Progress is hence in the cards, driven by evidence. This assumption was first applied to nature, as we learned to crack its codes and employ its resources. For the past 200 years or so, it has also been applied to society. We no longer take society for granted as something to which we have to adapt, but we seek to re-make it in line with our designs. For many people, this means such things as improving relations among the races, reducing income inequalities, and redefining marriage, among other actions.
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