Science has a paradoxical relationship with authority. On the one hand, the authority of nature is fundamental to its practice. The established belief that science is only an articulation of the truths of nature, and hence nature as the final judge of its expressions, continues to influence narratives of science. Science’s commitment to the authority of nature is also expressed in the way it understands laws of nature as a form of ‘governance’ of nature, the object-oriented focus of its discourse, and its complex interpretation of experiments. At the same time, and diametrically opposed to this belief in the authority of nature, is the challenge to the authority of the scientists, a practice that is part of everyday science. Right from its origins to pedagogical practices today, science is taught as a form of challenging the authority of other scientists. Although the scientific reaction to human authority influenced the response to authority in political thought and catalysed ideas of social resistance, there is nevertheless a constant tension between the authority of nature and the authority of the human. But what is interesting is that this challenge to authority is not posed as an ethical challenge but only as an epistemological one, thereby leading to a serious absence of an ethical space within scientific practice. This talk will explore these tensions and challenges around the question of authority in/out of science.
Prof. Sundar Sarukkai is the Director of the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities, Manipal University, India. He is the author of the following books: Translating the World: Science and Language (2002), Philosophy of Symmetry (2004), Indian Philosophy and Philosophy of Science (2005), What is Science? (2012) and The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory (2012, co-authored with Gopal Guru). He is an Editorial Advisory Board member of the Leonardo Book Series published by MIT Press and the Series Editor for Science and Society, Routledge.