Plato’s Revenge: An Undemocratic Report from an Overheated Planet


By midsummer 2099, as yet more record temperatures were reported from an ever wider collection of places, the intergovernmental office of environmental studies finally announced the answer to a long-debated question.    Many figures for the rise in the mean temperature of the Earth during the twenty-first century had been predicted, but it turned out that the right value was 5.24°C – rather more than optimists had expected and somewhat less than pessimists had feared.    The report was discussed by the former residents of the Maldives and the Bay of Bengal in the various places to which they had fled, by the refugees from the Great Italian Desert and the California salt-marshes, and a few lucky predictors raised their glasses of Hebrides Champagne.    It was an occasion for many of the world’s two billion displaced people to reflect on the billion-plus members of their former homelands who had succumbed to floods, hurricanes, droughts, starvation, and the ravages of the six great pandemics which had swept the globe during the past four decades – and it was also the occasion for an unusually popular podcast (a quaintly anachronistic form of communication that survived only in backwater academic circles).


Nobody would have expected an obscure professor of classical philosophy – one of the very few remaining members of that apparently useless specialty – to engage so large an audience, but the piece struck a chord.    Of course, the world’s discussion fora had been filled for decades with recriminations against the voters of the early twenty-first century nations who had, time after time, elected politicians who vowed that anthropogenic global warming was a hoax, or, later, that the problem could be addressed without diverging from established patterns of energy usage.    Especially in the disaster zones and in the refugee camps, survivors had angrily debated the sources of the appalling irresponsibility that had caused the climate crisis.     The professor did not address that question, but she did point out, convincingly, that some such catastrophe had been predicted by an ancient thinker.

Even the opening of the podcast was quaint – it began with the now defunct subjunctive.   “Were Plato living today, he would be hard pressed to avoid saying “I told you so”.1    Although he did not think of democracy as we do, and despite the fact that he would have seen our political systems as peculiar types of oligarchy, one of his central messages was that government is too difficult to be left to the ignorant.    If those who do not know important things are allowed to have a say – any say – in the crafting of policies, there is a serious danger that foolish things will be done or that necessary things will be left undone.    So-called democratic societies are disasters waiting to happen, and, in the early twenty-first century, the trouble finally erupted on a grand scale.   Expert advice, even when loudly and forcefully given, was ignored.    Sacrifices that were urgently needed were neglected.    Our devotion to a misguided political system led to the irreversible modification of the one planet we have – and to the deaths of well over a billion people (not to mention the reduction of billions more to lives of hardship and squalor).”

The professor continued with some scholarly details, but that opening paragraph, for all its stylistic infelicities and its archaic usages, resounded in the consciousness of a broad public.    At last it was clear what had gone wrong.    Our species had paid the price for its addiction to a political fetish, its obsession with democracy.



It may not go as badly as my story suggests, or it may go worse.    According to the expert consensus on climate science, the best we can hope for, if nothing is done is a rise of 2-3°C in the Earth’s mean temperature by century’s end.2    A really pessimistic assessment would predict 6-7°C.     My imagined figure is roughly in the middle of the interval.    Even if the rise were at the low end of the range, rising sea levels would eliminate low-lying islands and coastal areas – like the Maldives and the Bay of Bengal.     The Italian desert is more of a conjecture, and, even with an increase of 5°C, the bella campagna might avoid that dreadful fate, if there were some (improbable) shift in weather patterns.    That increase would almost certainly inundate California’s central valley, producing a large body of salt-water broken by patches of marshland (and putting an end to California agriculture).    Hebridean champagne is a whimsical possibility, but the traditional homelands of wine production would almost certainly be unable to grow the necessary grapes.    Increasing frequency and severity of destructive weather events – droughts, floods, hurricanes – is a straightforward effect of rising average temperatures.     Rapidly melting snowpacks will cause summers marked by initial floods and later droughts; floods will lead to contamination of water supplies.    Shortages of water, pollution of springs and rivers, disruption of agriculture, and mass migrations will generate huge outbreaks of disease and even allow for the rapid evolution of new disease vectors.

During the past three decades an overwhelming consensus has developed among the world’s climate scientists.    As James Hansen, Steven Schneider and Michael Mann have documented, a plot of the Earth’s mean temperature against time shows extraordinary correlation with the levels of greenhouse gases (primarily but by no means exclusively carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. 3  (Fig. 1) Correlation is not proof of direct causation, as every scientist knows and as climate deniers repeatedly insist, but, in this instance, not only is there an exquisite correlation, but also a mechanism – recognized by earth and atmospheric scientists for well over a century – for the increase in temperature when levels of carbon dioxide rise.    Further, there is no plausible alternative mechanism for explaining the effect.     When your favorite fictional detective assembles a dozen or so correlations between the murder and a suspect, when he shows how the suspect could have done the dreadful deed, and when there is no plausible rival account, his fictitious less gifted rivals and his actual devoted readers do not withhold assent.    When climate scientists offer a sample of clues larger by several orders of magnitude, when they can demonstrate the potential mechanism and when they can decisively eliminate proposed rivals, it would be stubborn folly not to accept their claims.

The minimal consensus estimate is that, even were we to act immediately to control the emission of greenhouse gases, the Earth’s mean temperature would rise by 2-3°C by 2100.    Charitably, and perhaps too optimistically, I’ve taken that range as the base line, even if we continue to do nothing.     The standard assignment of probabilities to various levels of temperature increase is shown in Fig. 2.    Climate scientists offer different models of the factors affecting the mean temperature (since there is disagreement about the weight to be assigned to factors that might force or dampen the greenhouse mechanism), and they diverge in their assessments of rates of sea-level rise, and the effects on weather patterns and on different geographical regions.    Some effects are, however, uncontroversial.    Nobody doubts that the mean sea level will rise by enough to flood certain low-lying places.    Nobody questions the fact that extreme weather events are increasing in frequency, that the distribution of weather shifts so that what was previously rare becomes more common and that the new “rare” events (the new tails of the distribution) are unprecedented.  (Fig. 3)

From this state of consensus arises a multi-tiered debate.    The ground level concerns the existence of anthropogenic global warming, and here the shouting should long have been over.   The second level addresses the question of whether there will be unfortunate, or catastrophic, consequences of likely increases in the earth’s mean temperature.    Ideally that level of debate would proceed by assigning precise probabilities to the intervals within which the increase might lie – for example, by declaring that the probability of an increase of 4-5°C, given no steps to curb the emission of greenhouse gases, is 0.19 – and by detailing the exact consequences of an increase of the type – say by delineating the regions of the world that would be submerged, identifying which would be affected by severe drought, and so forth.    Realistically nothing of that sort is possible.    Even if you restrict attention to the consequences for human well-being – a sensible restriction, given the difficulties of considering all the ecological variables that might affect the survival of a non-human species and the wide variation in human concern about species conservation – gauging sea-level rise is already difficult, and attending to the host of factors that might contribute to drought, disruption of agriculture, frequency of severe weather events, and spread of disease would be vastly harder.    Any sensible debate at this second level would be better framed by specifying some notion of “catastrophic consequence” and asking, with respect to particular ranges of temperature increase, what the chances would be of avoiding that outcome: thus, you might declare that a situation in which a billion human lives were lost over a period of a decade, as a result of global warming, was an unacceptably catastrophic consequence, and ask for the probability of avoiding this outcome, given a rise in mean temperature of 3.5 to 4.5 °C.     Although any answer to that question would be a matter of expert judgment, it seems likely that those who have immersed themselves in articulating the wide variety of scenarios that could affect human well-being, and human survival, through the variety of factors mentioned – rising sea-levels, drought, water-contamination, disruption of agriculture, modified patterns of disease transmission, forced human migrations – would suppose it very improbable that the human losses in the later decades of the twenty-first century could be held to a billion, if the earth’s mean temperature were to rise by 3.5 to 4.5 degrees.     Deriding expert judgment of this sort is no more reasonable than ridiculing the planning of prudent parents who, after thorough reflection on their circumstances, their prospects, and the needs of their children, decide on various insurance and investment strategies.

The third level embeds the conclusion of the second level in as thorough an examination of the likely outcome of alternative strategies as we can achieve.    The reasonable core of the protest against the existing proposals to restrict the emission of greenhouse gases consists in the correct observation that these proposals impose burdens on people now living and on our descendants.     Comparative analysis is critical.     You need to understand not only that the consequences of unchecked behavior are unacceptably bad, but that they are worse than those that would result from applying the brakes.     If, as I believe, the debate ought to be over at the ground level and the contours of a resolution are already visible at the second level, the third level issues need far more focused articulation than they have so far received.     Our political discussions urgently require a thorough survey of as many alternatives to business-as-usual as informed and imaginative thought can supply, and as careful and precise a delination of the human consequences as can be achieved.     If expert judgment enters into the second level, it does so more crucially here, for the selection of particular scenarios as likely is itself a matter of weighing the strength of factors that defy any ability to provide numerical estimates, and the further enterprise of comparing the chances of their obtaining would involve the kinds of judgments about which even the most knowledgeable people justifiably feel queasy.     Perhaps we can hope that the exploration of alternatives would be sufficiently imaginative to unearth some plausible scenario that would clearly be superior to the most prominent rivals – as might occur, for example, if there were some clever and convincing suggestion for harnessing sources of energy that would pose no environmental problems.     In the absence of that, it may be necessary for our species, in full self-consciousness of what is being done, to take a gamble.    We may find ourselves in the predicament William James conjures up at the close of “The Will to Believe”: caught in a blinding blizzard on a high pass, the traveler must strike out in some direction, even though he is fully aware that he may be heading towards a precipice.

The fourth and final level brings to the deliberations of the third some important constraints from ethics and the theory of justice.    The burdens and benefits of particular ways of responding to the rising mean temperature of our planet fall differently on different groups of people, on those who live in some places rather than in others, on members of societies who have gained from previous use of carbon-based fuels as compared with those whose nations are in the process of industrializing, on those who live now and those who will come later.     Even if the consequences of the array of possible responses developed at the third level entirely clear, it would still be necessary to subject those responses to ethical scrutiny, to ensure that all those affected – and that includes all members of our species from now into the future – are treated fairly.    Despite skeptical concerns that fundamental ethical issues are incapable of resolution, global warming presents us with questions about justice that human beings have to answer – and that we have to answer together.

I have only sketched the debate that nature demands of us, without attending to all sorts of considerations that would have to figure in any detailed outline.    For present purposes, however, a sketch is enough.    For my aim is to understand how our current misconceptions about democracy, and about what a commitment to democracy requires of us, interfere with the global political discussions we so urgently need.



In countries all over the world, political attention to climate change has waned.    Even nations that appeared committed to imposing serious restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases are retreating from what their manufacturing entrepreneurs view as “intrusive regulation”, and in Britain and the USA the situation is particularly dire.    One obvious factor in accounting for the retrenchment is the state of the global economy: essentially, nation-states are leaping to a conclusion about the third- and fourth-level debates because they see their current economic prospects as endangered.     Yet the turn away from any active pursuit of a prudent climate policy is reinforced by public skepticism about the need for attention to the issue.     In the wake of the disclosures about e-mails among climate scientists, and about a (minor) error in a section of the IPCC report, many media sources have trumpeted the idea that “global warming is a hoax”.    A sufficient number of American Senators and members of the House of Representatives are disposed to accept that view to render serious policy-making by the world’s largest economy impossible.    Although the United States is fortunate to have a president who has some understanding of the issue, his hands are thoroughly tied and his attention is diverted – and it is possible that he will be succeeded by a lover of Big Oil who is completely convinced that warnings of increasing global temperatures are scandalous lies.

A Yale University study of American attitudes is sometimes taken to provide a more comforting picture. According to that study:

A majority (63%) of Americans understand that global warming is happening, while 19 percent say it is not happening, and 19 percent say they don’t know.

Half of Americans (50%) say that if global warming is happening, it is caused mostly by human activities. Over a third (35%) say that if it is happening, it is caused by natural changes, while 7 percent reject the question and say global warming is not happening.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) say that most scientists think global warming is happening, while 38 percent say there is a lot of disagreement among scientists whether or not global warming is happening.

Just over half of Americans say they are very (16%) or somewhat worried (39%) about global warming, while 45 percent say they are not very (26%), or not at all worried (19%).

In fact, these figures are not particularly reassuring.     Note first that, by the laws of probability, the probability of any conjunction can be no greater than the probability of its least probable conjunct: hence at most 50% of the American population believes in anthropogenic global warming. Americans are evidently not well-informed on the extraordinary international consensus among climate scientists.    Nor, evidently, is this an area in which American citizens harbor strong concerns.

The inaction of successive United States administrations thus reflects the popular mood. Moreover, one might think, that is just as it should be in a democracy. For, on a simple conception of what democracy entails, policy should reflect the will of the public. If the public does not think a particular issue should be addressed, then it is entirely right that nothing should be done about it. Plato saw this as a fundamental commitment of democracy, and, because he understood that people may be massively deceived – or misled – about what is in their interests, he drew the conclusion that democracy is a political disaster.

Many friends of democracy agree with Plato about the commitment of the political system they champion. Since they must also concede the possibility that the public can be seriously mistaken in its factual beliefs – and recognize that possibility as realized on various occasions in various societies – they are forced to Plato’s intermediate conclusion, to wit that democracies sometimes (perhaps frequently) pursue policies that are contrary to the interests of a majority of their citizens. If this is not to count as a disaster, that must either be because the mismatch between policy and interests occurs less frequently under democratic regimes, or because there must be some special value in the kind of freedom democracy allows that counterbalances the thwarting of broadly-shared aspirations.

It is possible to conceive ideal political systems that respond perfectly to the interests of the majority of citizens: Plato himself offered one utopia, in which the perfect match was supposedly guaranteed. One part of the defense of democracy consists in denying that anything close to complete alignment of policy with majority interests can be achieved in any world in which human beings run the show: no system of eduction could produce the guardians with their combination of deep insight and incorruptibility. Yet even if you suspended your doubts about the inevitable venality of political leaders, there would remain a further advantage of democratic decision-making, a benefit accruing from the freedom democracy allows. There is something to the idea that, even though others might make better decisions on our behalf, we gain by acting for ourselves: the extra mistakes are outweighed by the freedom of self-expression.

How far can that go? Suppose there were a deep desire shared by most members of a polity, even common to the overwhelming majority of human beings. Suppose that desire to be so central to the lives and personal projects of people that, were it not to be realizable, those lives and projects would be importantly undermined and defeated. Would a democracy in which policies that put the desire at risk – or even ran contrary to it – be preferable to an autocracy whose policies promoted the realization of that desire? Is the freedom to choose for oneself so valuable as to override the contravention of most people’s central aims and goals?

For many human beings, our hopes for those who come after us are entwined with our sense of what we are. Those hopes are expressed in the sacrifices we make for children and grandchildren, but they range more broadly than that. Our lives are diminished if we come to understand that we have failed to do what is necessary to allow our descendants, both those who have a biological connection to us and those who live in the communities in which we have resided, to have the possibility of leading valuable lives of their own.  If we were to think that we had put their habitat at risk, done things that made it impossible for them to live securely and in health on our planet, we would view ourselves as having failed to discharge an important obligation to them. It would be little consolation to emphasize the supposedly great value of having participated in radically uninformed democratic decisions.

The alleged “fundamental commitment” of democracy is part of an overly simple picture of what democracy is: Plato and my envisaged friends of democracy are wrong. To be sure, democratic freedom is a valuable thing, but its value is grounded in the fostering of the interests of the citizens. Our votes matter because they allow us to make our interests apparent. To the extent that the preferences we express run contrary to our interests, those votes are meaningless.

Democracy is a historically evolving political system. Its popularity rests not on the naive thought that “government by the people” will result in policies that express the popular will, but on the clear capacity of democracy to solve the problem of identifiable oppression. That problem arises in societies where the overwhelming majority of the people can see very clearly that those who rule are acting in ways directly contrary to their interests: the deprivations and sufferings they experience can be easily and correctly traced to the actions of their oppressors. Enshrining particular limits in a constitution, whether written or unwritten, serves as a first line of defense against tyrannical predation, but if the rulers overstep the boundaries, the machinery of elections and voting allows for their recall. Reflection on the last century, and on the dictatorships that have flourished in many regions of the globe, makes clear the importance of finding a solution to this problem.

Contemporary human societies live, however, with a different difficulty: the problem of unidentifiable oppression. Even in the most affluent contemporary democracies, some citizens suffer from governmental policies that deprive them of opportunities to pursue their legitimate interests. Neither the children who go to ill-staffed, poorly-equipped, dangerous schools, nor those who care for them (often a single parent or a weary grandmother) can easily recognize the sources of the conditions that so tightly cramp their future prospects from an early age.     The effects of a diffuse cloud of governmental and bureaucratic decisions “trickle down” (for once the phrase is apt) into their soggy lives.     Only when democratic government is reinforced with public knowledge can democracy cope with problems of this sort.     Widespread ignorance of the factors that thwart the citizens’ interests makes “government by the people” an empty piety.     Plato was partly right, after all.

In a world with a complex division of labor, in which consequential decisions turn on pieces of specialized knowledge whose formulations are typically incomprehensible to the vast majority of people, problems of unidentifiable oppression are everywhere.    If democracy is to address many of the sources of current oppression, it is not enough for it to stop with the defense against evident tyranny (important though that defense is). Democracy needs to evolve further.



At this point, an obvious thought is likely to surface. Democratic societies are not only committed to constitutional guarantees and opportunities to recall those who overstep them, but also marked by “free and open” discussion. Precisely this supplies what is needed.     Equipped with their native wit, common sense, natural rationality (or what you will), the citizens are able to listen to and appraise the issues that arise for them, to come to recognize the things they need to know.     Contemporary enthusiasm for the magic wrought by “fair and balanced” debate – matched only by ardor for the magic worked by the “free market” – translates into the modern context points that were elegantly and eloquently made centuries ago.    Milton asks, rhetorically, “Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”, and Mill celebrates the “clearer and livelier perception of truth produced by its collision with error”. 4   Perhaps Milton and Mill were right to be convinced that public debate would produce such benefits in the controversies of most concern to them.    But that is not the way we live now.

Milton, Mill and their successors presuppose a principle of evidential harmony: public discussion of controversial issues occurs in such a way that those who make the final assessments are able to do so on the basis of the evidential support accruing to the rival positions.    That principle is plainly flouted in the debate with which this essay began: only a tiny number of those whose interests will be affected by climate change are in any position to recognize the evidence for or against any of the principal claims that figure in the public controversy.    To suppose that the newspaper reports they read, the radio broadcasts they hear, the television news they watch, or the internet sites they visit provide them with any “clearer and livelier perception of the truth” is an absurd fantasy.     Attention to the full range of these media sources makes it evident that there are many devices available to those who wish to put Truth to the worse.    Climate deniers are handsomely funded by industrial sugar-daddies, and able to produce slick videos to market their message.    They appropriate the rhetoric of the virtues of free discussion, praising a worthy ideal while simultaneously creating conditions – arenas in which production values substitute for reasons – that foil any chance of its realization.

In the contemporary world, market mechanisms are unlikely to favor the dissemination of accurate information.     Even if inaccuracies are detected, and even if they are deemed important, their promulgation can be explained away.    Media sources can expect large profits by substituting sensationalism for sober reporting, entertainment for enlightenment.    Especially in societies where there are deep political and religious differences, market niches can be defined in terms of a constellation of attitudes to be continually reinforced by the latest “news”: those who tune in can be sure that their fundamental convictions will not be perturbed.    Moreover, the less accurate a picture of the world the citizens have, the less able they are to engage in critical reflection on their favored sources of “information”.     The world they inhabit is remote from those envisaged by Milton and Mill.

Yet, even if these familiar features of the transmission of “public knowledge” were absent, it would still be hard to cope with the problems of unidentifiable oppression we face.    For an important point, descending from Kuhn – and ultimately from Fleck – casts doubt on any possibility of timely resolution of technical controversies in a public forum.    Kuhn’s historical examples show clearly that the considerations underlying many scientific debates are subtle and delicate, that resolutions come slowly, and that a complex web of argumentation must be elaborated before anything close to consensus can be reached.5     Scientific decision-making is not algorithmic (although philosophers continue to dream of making it so), nor is it the case that some single piece of evidence or argument convinces everyone.     Hence, even given universal good will and impeccable honesty, the task of settling the climate change controversy in public would pose enormous challenges.     It is simply unrealistic to expect that democracy’s commitment to “free and open discussion” will solve the many problems of unidentifiable oppression faced by the citizens of modern societies, or that open debate will create pressure on political leaders to craft policies answering to a deep and central interest of almost all people.     Sustaining democracy seems incompatible with saving our planet.



Is this Plato’s revenge?    I hope not, and my hopes are founded in the thought that democracy is – must be – an evolving political system.    Plato rightly linked education to his political system, and so too did one of democracy’s premier champions, John Dewey.     Education, serious education, has to be central to the democracies of the future (assuming that they continue to exist), but, as Dewey saw, democratization can itself be a form of education.6     Beyond the superficial machinery of votes and elections, beyond the “free discussions” in which partisans of different views campaign for the allegiance of citizens, lies the engagement of citizen with citizen, the sharing of points of view, the mutual recognition.     Reforming the educational systems of the contemporary world is probably an important step, but it will be too slow to address some of the challenges our species now faces: even if the voters of the next generations would have a firmer grasp of the issues pertinent to climate change, we cannot wait that long.    In the short term, what is urgently needed is the restoration of trust in genuine expertise.    How might that happen?

Through the refashioning of a type of democratic discussion that has often been central to flourishing government by the people.     Citizens with different perspectives can be brought together, they can be put into conversations with representatives of pertinent areas of technical inquiry, and encouraged to arrive at a consensus.    Their testimony can then help a broader class of citizens to share the expert understanding: trust can be restored as small representative groups are “led behind the scenes”, emerging to spread their findings to larger populations.    This is an extension of the ideal of Well-Ordered Science, an ideal that tries to combine a realistic picture of the scientific enterprise with democratic values.7

In recent decades, the authority of scientific experts has been radically eroded.8    That is not because of some particular philosophical movement – post-modernism has not been introduced into the drinking water.    Nor is it because the findings of scientists have been decisively shown to be unreliable.    Rather, the trouble stems in part from the need for scientists to pronounce on urgent issues before there is a clearly articulated consensus that can be presented and defended in simple terms, in part from the workings of the “credit economy” that underlies the practices of scientific communities, and in part from the inevitable entanglement of scientific work with judgments of value.

We inhabit a world in which there are many large problems with respect to which scientific pronouncements must be tentative, and discussion of such problems frequently involves public debate among “experts”.    Further, the welcome diversity of scientific perspectives is often encouraged by competition among scientists who vie for credit.     Even when a consensus seems imminent, those with divergent views have incentives to take their ideas to a lay public that is in no position to judge their merits.

Most fundamental, however, is the increasing recognition that, in choosing their problems, in conducting their research, and even in validating their conclusions, scientists have to decide that the hypotheses they entertain and the practical tools they forge are well-established enough for the purposes to which they will be put.    Value judgments enter here.    Once that fact is appreciated, the scientists who put forward a consensus view can be charged with deserting the scientific ideal, of succumbing to illicit prejudices.     The situation is further complicated by a widespread distrust of any possibility of serious discussion of values.    The thoughtful climate scientists who make judgments about human consequences are effectively assimilated to those who announce views that harmonize strikingly with the aims of the private corporations that fund their research.

Within the family and in small communities, profitable discussion of values and aims is possible, even common.    The right worry about “experts” is not that they are importing values – that is inevitable – but that they introduce values that would not be sustainable in a broadly democratic discussion: they promote special interests, not the deeply shared concerns of most members of our species.    We urgently need channels of communication that will allay that kind of doubt.    Hence my (tentative) suggestion that small representative groups of citizens go behind the scenes, returning to report on the nature of the consensus and the values that are in play.     To answer Plato’s challenge, something of that sort must remedy the public ignorance to which our children’s future is currently held hostage.

In the end, the democratic conversation must become truly global.    With respect to climate change, the characteristic procedures introduced and refined by the IPCC need to be embedded in discussions in which citizens from all parts of the world, and from diverse perspectives, come together to share in decision-making.     The town-meetings Tocqueville rightly saw as so vibrant a part of American democracy might take place on a broad scale, as citizens – citizens of the world – join to carry on the multi-level conversation §II envisaged.     Nobody should suppose that this will be easy, or even to assume that it will necessarily succeed, but if Plato is not to have the last mordant laugh, it is hard to think of any serious alternative.





Fig. 2




Fig 3



1 The professor was obviously thinking of the discussions in the Republic.

2 As I shall acknowledge later, even this is too optimistic.   Virtually all climate scientists beleve that, if we act immediately, the global mean temperature will rise by 2-3°C by the end of the century.

3 For accessible presentations of their ideas, see Hansen Storms of my Grandchildren (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009), Schneider Science as a Contact Sport (Washington DC: National Geographic, 2009), Mann The Hockey Stick (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming).

4 John Milton Areopagitica, John Stuart Mill On Liberty.

5 T.S. Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962) Chapter XII.

6 John Dewey  Democracy and Education (New York: Free Press, 1944).

7 The ideal was originally introduced in my Science, Truth, and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).   It is defended and developed much further in Science in a Democratic Society.

8 The ideas of the following paragraphs are a radical compression of themes worked out far more extensively in Science in a Democratic Society. For the perspective on values, see also The Ethical Project (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).


Philip Kitcher is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. The themes of many parts of this essay are developed at far greater length in my book Science in a Democratic Society (Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2011).


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2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

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2024: Vol. 23, No. 1