Date of this Version
Published in Ultimate Reality and Meaning 28:2 (2005), pp. 149-164. Postscript added June 2015.
Many natural scientists of the past and the present have imagined that they pursued their activity according to its own inherent rules in a realm distinctly separate from the business world, or at least in a realm where business tended to interfere with science from time to time, but was not ultimately an essential component, ‘because one thought that in science one possessed and loved something unselfish, harmless, self-sufficient, and truly innocent, in which man’s evil impulses had no part whatever’, as Nietzsche once commented (Nietzsche 1974, p.106). With the extreme technological changes that have occurred in the last fifty years and the orchestrated management changes in the culture of science, it is now obvious that science is intimately tied to private businesses, industry, and society. Within this structure, the scientist has generally unknowingly defined him or herself in accordance with obsolete myths that have tended to handicap the scientist’s freedom of action, by obscuring the modern political and economic realities of science, and neglecting the inherent responsibilities of the scientist as a critical actor in the theater of human civilization. The increasing incorporation of academic science and private industry, and the governmentally supervised nature of modem academic science, has corrupted the traditional freedom and character of the scientist. In order to navigate oneself and find meaning within the new structure of science, scientists now desperately need a fresh ethos that at once considers modern realities of the politics and management of science, societal urgencies, and global politics, as well as establishing a moral perspective where modern scientists can be actors with their own intentionality and responsibility.
In the culture of science, myths and ideologies are of critical importance for the formation of the scientist, because these ideas determine how scientists conceive of themselves as professionals and free individuals. More importantly, these ideas determine how scientists approach scientific activity, which exists in a social context, and which ultimately has the potential to dramatically change the characteristics of civilization as it is played out on the political and technological battlefield. It is a commonly held notion in the community of the natural sciences that science now is essentially what it was when it was described by the Nobel laureates of the past; those sweet, cushioning, pleasant words consecrating the ‘temple of science’; the picture of a humble, rational, and noble Einstein is imprinted into our memories. By dismantling these obsolete myths of the scientist and surveying contemporary trends in science, this article will explore a more realistic perspective toward the field of science. The goal of this investigation is to determine the modern reality and ultimate meaning of ‘science as a vocation’ (Shorett 2003). Finally, moral philosophy will be demonstrated to be a critical clement in the self-assertion of the scientist and the elucidation of the meaning of science as a vocation in a global technological society.
From the Postscript, 2015: This article took final form when I was a postdoctoral researcher in Canada. Reading it now, I recognize the article still has value, despite its many flaws, hyperboles, and idealism. Many issues in the article have become increasingly relevant, such as the need to make constant trade-offs in courses of action and continuously search for more morally significant research paths. Perhaps the greatest goals in writing the article were to increase intellectual control over the path of my scientific research, to escape the increasing conformity and constraints on modern life, to participate in an open society, to formulate my personal goals and goal hierarchies, to dispel any delusions of overconfidence, and to not be corrupted.