Science and the Good

The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality

James Hunter Paul Nedelisky

This title is copublished with Yale University Press as part of the Foundational Questions in Science series. It is only available for purchase through Yale University Press or your favorite bookstore. 

In this illuminating book, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky recount the centuries-long, passionate quest to discover a scientific foundation for morality. The "new moral science" led by such figures as E.O. Wilson, Patricia Churchland and Joshua Greene is only the newest manifestation of an effort that has failed repeatedly. Though claims for its accomplishments are often wildly exaggerated, this new iteration has been no more successful than its predecessors. Hunter and Nedelisky argue that in the end, science cannot tell us how we should live or why we should be good and not evil, and this is for both philosophical and scientific reasons.  
 
In the face of this failure, the new moral science has taken a surprising turn. Whereas earlier efforts sought to demonstrate what is right and wrong, the new moral scientists have concluded that right and wrong, because they are not amenable to scientific study, don’t actually exist. Their (perhaps unwitting) moral nihilism turns the science of morality into a social engineering project. If there is nothing moral for science to discover, the science of morality becomes, at best, a program to achieve arbitrary societal goals.
 
Concise and rigorously argued, Science and the Good is a major critique of a would-be science that has gained too much influence in today’s public discourse, and an exposé of that project’s darker turn.

"Science and the Good is a compelling critique of half-baked ideas that have acquired pervasive and unwarranted influence in Anglophone public discourse today. One could not ask for a more timely and incisive contribution to contemporary cultural debate."

Jackson Lears, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, Rutgers University

Science and the Good provides an incisive and timely analysis of the pressing question: can science demonstrate what morality is and how we should live?  Hunter and Nedelisky carefully expose the inadequacies and dangers of ‘the new science of morality.’”

Peter Harrison, author of The Territories of Science and Religion

Wall Street Journal

“[This] important and timely book reminds us that ethics at its best challenges rather than justifies the status quo, which is why a purely descriptive science of ethics is never enough.”

Julian Baggini

The Gospel Coalition

"The book is full of insightful commentary on the historical figures and the current evolutionary and neuroscientific bases for morality."

Scott B. Rae, PhD

National Review

"Science and the Good gives a careful historical and logical analysis of what its subtitle rightly calls  “the tragic quest for the foundations of morality” over the last four hundred years. The tragedy of the quest is rooted in the continuing failure of philosophical and scientific naturalism to provide grounds or credibility for ethics (and thus for justice and just law)."

M. D. Aeschliman

The Telegraph

"Science and the Good is a closely argued, always accessible riposte to those who think scientific study can explain, improve or even supersede morality....[a] generous and thoughtful critique."

Simon Ings