A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England

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University of Chicago Press, Jun 15, 1994 - History - 483 pages
How do we come to trust our knowledge of the world? What are the means by which we distinguish true from false accounts? Why do we credit one observational statement over another?

In A Social History of Truth, Shapin engages these universal questions through an elegant recreation of a crucial period in the history of early modern science: the social world of gentlemen-philosophers in seventeenth-century England. Steven Shapin paints a vivid picture of the relations between gentlemanly culture and scientific practice. He argues that problems of credibility in science were practically solved through the codes and conventions of genteel conduct: trust, civility, honor, and integrity. These codes formed, and arguably still form, an important basis for securing reliable knowledge about the natural world.

Shapin uses detailed historical narrative to argue about the establishment of factual knowledge both in science and in everyday practice. Accounts of the mores and manners of gentlemen-philosophers are used to illustrate Shapin's broad claim that trust is imperative for constituting every kind of knowledge. Knowledge-making is always a collective enterprise: people have to know whom to trust in order to know something about the natural world.


TWO Who Was Then a Gentleman? Integrity and Gentle
Knowledge Social
FOUR Who Was Robert Boyle? The Creation
The Practical Management
Mathematics and Boyles
Masters Servants and
The Way We Live Now

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About the author (1994)

Steven Shapin is professor emeritus of the history of science at Harvard University. His books include Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (with Simon Schaffer), The Scientific Life: A Moral History of a Late Modern Vocation, The Scientific Revolution, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England, and Never Pure: Historical Studies of Science as if It Was Produced by People with Bodies, Situated in Time, Space, Culture, and Society, and Struggling for Credibility and Authority.

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