The Calculus of Ought: Quantification is more than merely a means of communication and persuasion in a fragmented culture

James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky in The Hedgehog Review:

There was a time not long ago when most educated people believed that science would one day explain everything—not only the workings of the physical world but also the secrets to the good life. Such confidence perhaps peaked in the early nineteenth century, when Jeremy Bentham proposed utilitarianism as a way of making happiness quantifiable and the positivist Auguste Comte sought a social physics to apply immutable scientific laws to all aspects of human life. But by the early twentieth century, that boundless faith in science had been badly shaken. Within the academy, philosopher G.E. Moore was widely thought to have refuted empirical approaches to ethics. Within the Temple of Science, the pace of new discoveries forced researchers to acknowledge how tentative and contingent their findings were. And ever newer sciences such as quantum physics made people wonder whether there was anything regular or predictable (or even ultimately material) about even the physical world. As for relying on science and the calculus of the greater good to tell us how to live our lives—particularly after the serial horrors of two world wars—that notion increasingly met with skepticism, if not outright derision. Today, most thoughtful people dismiss the old scientism as crudely reductive, and certainly irrelevant as a source of moral and ethical guidance. Except…

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