Progress, Politics, & Profit

According to Harari, science, empire and capitalism are linked because science and empires were motivated by the feeling that something important awaited beyond the horizon (Harari 297), and capitalism emcompasses the ethic that economic growth is the supreme good (Harari 314). He states that scientific research is generally funded by either governments or private businesses who, before investing in a scientific project, ask if the project will enable them to increase production and products, and if it will produce economic growth. Scientific discovery was shaped by political and fiscal interests when in the sixthteenth century, for example, kings and bankers channeled enormous resources to finance geographical expeditions around world, but nothing for child psychology research. This is because they believed the discovery of new geographical knowledge would allow them to conquer new lands in order to set up trade empires, whereas they could see no profit in understanding child psychology (Harari 272).

Harari regards “progress” as having a pivotal role in the linkage of science, empire, and capitalism. He states that until the Scientific Revolution most human cultures did not believe in progress (Harari 264). Harari gives the example of lightning and that it was once believed that lightning was the hammer of an angry god, used to punish sinners (Harari 265). I agree with Harari that progress has an important role in science. Without progress such as Benjamin Franklin’s observations that lightning is just an electrical current, people may still believe that many aspects of science are the works of “gods.” Poverty is another example. People believed that poverty, sickness, wars, famine, etc. were the inevitable fate of humankind. Progress has proven that as wrong and we have moved forward in scientific discovery because of progress.

1 thought on “Progress, Politics, & Profit”

  1. Hello Hali!

    I would like to challenge your view just a little bit on the nature of “progress”. In your second paragraph you talk about how we have “moved forward in scientific discovery because of progress”. You seem to imply that this progress is inherently good, as it replaced old understandings of the world based on myths, such as lightning being sent by some god. I would posit that while science has done a lot of good in the world, it has also led to a lot of suffering and destruction, and that when we view science it should be to view it as a tool and not something that inherently brings about benefit. Science has led to the creation of ever-increasingly powerful weapons that have increased the lethality of wars significantly, and it has led to the creation of vaccines that have saved many millions of people from sickness. Since it has that sort of dual nature, I would recommend a critical eye be given towards a view that any scientific development is a form of good “progress”.

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