Disinformation. Trolling. Conspiracies. Social media pile-ons. Campus intolerance. On the surface, these recent additions to our daily vocabulary appear to have little in common. But together, they are driving an epistemic crisis: a multi-front challenge to America's ability to distinguish fact from fiction and elevate truth above falsehood. In The Constitution of Knowledge, Jonathan Rauch reaches back to the parallel eighteenth-century developments of liberal democracy and science to explain what he calls the "Constitution of Knowledge"--our social system for turning disagreement into truth. By explicating the Constitution of Knowledge and probing the war on reality, Rauch arms defenders of truth with a clearer understanding of what they must protect, why they must do--and how they can do it.
[Rauch] sees clearly what a mess we have on our hands, but he also sees something much more hopeful: a centuries-old tradition of embracing the scientific method ... Rauch is a very smart fellow who has done a huge amount of reading, and he is an elegant writer, a combination that makes him persuasive. Reading this book is a rewarding challenge. I thought I deserved at least three college credits for getting to the end, though the trip itself was more fun than most college courses.
Rauch’s subject, in The Constitution of Knowledge, is the building of human understanding. He takes us on a historical tour of how a range of thinkers (Socrates, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montaigne, Locke, Mill, Hume, Popper) sought truth, came to embrace uncertainty, learned to test hypotheses and created scientific communities ... There’s a limit to Rauch’s position [...] I wish he’d grappled more with the tensions between sidelining the haters and taking them on.
Rauch spares neither right- nor left-leaning activists in his latest salvo in America’s information wars ... Even readers who disagree with his politics may be moved by his poignant argument from personal experience. A thoughtful, occasionally overreaching critique of 'emotional safetyism' and other relevant trends.