A new piece forthcoming as part of a special issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will be of interest to AHP readers: “Technoscientific control of nature: The ultimate paradox,” by Martin Fichman. Abstract:
The current interlinked environmental and socioeconomic global crises constitute the gravest threat to humanity’s well-being, indeed survival, today. Studies of the historical roots and contemporary manifestations of the various elements of these crises—including accelerating environmental degradation, unfettered capitalist technoscientific/industrial expansion, overpopulation, and overconsumption—are plentiful. Also well-known is the influence of Francis Bacon’s writings, particularly The Advancement of Learning (1605), Novum Organon (1620), and the utopian New Atlantis (1627), on the development of empiricism and the modern scientific method as well as the reform and organization of scientific research. Bacon’s significance for the founding of the Royal Society of London (1660) and for the plan and structure of the Encyclopedie (1751–1772), coupled with his oft-cited aphoristic injunctions to study nature to control/dominate it, are staples in the lore and justification of technoscience. I argue that the enduring appeal of so-called Baconianism derives, in part, from a fundamental misappropriation of certain of Bacon’s original ideas. Specifically, the complex ethical and religious framework within which Bacon situated his vision of scientific and technological development was discarded (or ignored) so that, by the early decades of the 18th century, Baconianism had come to be understood almost exclusively for its utilitarian role in society. This deracinated version became the familiar trope of technoscience’s unlimited potential to transform nature (including human nature and behavior) in the service of an ideology of industrial/consumerist expansion since then. Linkage between the history of science/technology and addictive consumerism, apparent by the close of the 19th century, has been insufficiently examined. Such addictive consumerist behavior and continued virtually unregulated industrialization and production, were effectively removed from ethical scrutiny and a high degree of material acquisition and personal/societal rapaciousness became the norm rather than the exception in most countries. I suggest that further historical deconstruction of this denuded Baconianism will yield important insights in the search for viable solutions to the present global socioenvironmental crises.