Should scientists rule the world?

Diskusije o politici

Should scientists rule the world?

Postod Petrovic » 25. Sep 2014., 21:34

Should scientists rule the world?

When I look at the policy decisions coming out of government these days I think Plato’s idea of government run by an educated class of “philosopher kings” holds deeper significance today as it seems we are ruled by a class of people whose thinking clearly lacks intellectual rigour, let alone imagination.


If Plato had been around today he would have advocated a ruling class made up of scientists whose scientific and analytical thinking would lead to better public policy in comparison to the half-baked solutions coming out of Capitol Hill, Whitehall and other leading powerhouses across the world.

Plato describes the type of education necessary to produce the philosopher king, which involves a great deal of mathematics! Unfortunately most of our politicians lack any with the exception of Germany’s premier Angela Merkel who holds a PhD in physics.

In Plato’s Republic the philosopher kings would not be able to rule until they had completed their rigorous education. After all what bigger responsibility is there other than governing the affairs of people?

So why is it that we have mediocre minds ruling over us, especially when they haven’t even graduated from university? Surely we need the best minds in positions of ruling and government.

I imagine Plato advocating a ruling class for the digital age, one where the ruling class would be educated in all the sciences. They would have to undergo an arduous scientific apprenticeship before they even got a sniff of power.

In particular they would have a biological understanding of human nature that would enable them to truly address the needs of society. Only then could we begin to create a scientific literate society.

I’ve never quite understood why science is stopped being taught once people embark on their various degrees in the arts, humanities or social sciences. Coming from a background in the arts, I don’t believe one can really be a great artist unless they have a scientific appreciation of our world.

I imagine the great artists of our time, indeed the artistic revolutions of our time emerging out of science.

In November LSE will host a research seminar on ‘Complexity Theory as a Framework for Management and Public Policy.’ Complexity could be the means through which science increases its influence in political decision making.

Maybe a new political party is needed, one that is comprised of scientists and whose policies are rooted in hard science, especially in an age where the ideological blocs of left and right have eroded – need to think more about this…

Matt Brown

Interesting post, Farooq. Do you (or Plato for that matter) see such a society being compatible with democracy? At what level are people screened for scientific aptitude and barred from standing if they’re found wanting? Local councils, constituency elections, party leadership contests?

Farooq Khan

The questions you highlight Matt indicate how people have lost trust in politicians. There are various studies and concerns in the political class about the lack of society’s participation in democracy. Membership of political parties has dropped dramatically and people are increasingly sceptical.

People want to be governed well, and that requires a great deal of intelligence. In Plato’s model to develop rulers with the necessary intellectual calibre, they would have to study a range of subjects – 10 years of mathematical education I believe followed by 5 years of training in the art of debate, and only when they had reached their 50’s would they be able to consider ruling, so only the best would be allowed to rule.

I think the correlation between political systems and human nature is something that will again be looked at as thinkers like Steven Pinker perhaps plant the seeds for a new enlightenment. Science has moved far beyond political philosophy which remains in a paradigm for a different age.

Stephen Curry

God preserve us from Preseident Venter! He’s certainly an energetic and imaginative scientist but also rather good at self-publicity (a trait of many ’prominent – but not always successful – politicians).

However the presumption in this post that scientists may be best qualified to make the decisions needed for a thriving economy and a harmonious society is rather arrogant, is it not? There are many other disciplines that require a rational analysis of the world e.g. history. Certainly a good understanding of science is increasingly important in today’s world and may help to foster a rational outlook but it is not the only required qualification. As Henry mentions our previous scientist-premier was not a great success.

It is relatively easy to find fault with politicians but the relative dearth of truly successful exemplars of the species surely tells us that the business of government is, well, quite difficult.

Farooq Khan

Stephen I would agree that having a rational outlook is not the only required qualification. My issue is that politics does not originate from a scientific understanding of the world. Our systems of socio-political organisation, economic system and structures are not derived from science. Our systems do not reflect our understanding of human beings and our environment. Maybe we need a scientific politics, one that is distinguished from capitalism and socialism, political schools of thought that dominated the 20th century. We potentially could construct a whole new politics.

Robert Pinsonneault

One more item: It is my opinion that scientists should remain primarily in advisory roles in the interest of objectivity. The moment the scientist is placed in the role of Ruler, decisions must always be colored by two things: what is best for those governed but what will also allow the power structure to remain intact. It is the latter issue that infects the ol’ judgment and corrupt the decision making process, regardless of one’s training.

Farooq Khan

Robert I would say that science has become too compartmentalised, confined to medical cures, technological innovations and engineering feats. However science can shape every aspect of society from business to economics to the creative industries.

We are in the era of intellectual convergence such that science can and should pervade every aspect of society – it should be embedded in societal culture – hardwired in how society thinks and functions.

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