The best books on the rhetoric of science (from a distinguished professor)

Deirdre N. McCloskey Author Of The Rhetoric of Economics
By Deirdre N. McCloskey

Who am I?

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey is Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, and Professor Emerita of English and of Communication, adjunct in classics and philosophy, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trained at Harvard in the 1960s as an economist, she has written twenty-four books and some four hundred academic and popular articles on economic history, rhetoric, philosophy, statistical theory, economic theory, feminism, queer studies, liberalism, ethics, and law.


I wrote...

The Rhetoric of Economics

By Deirdre N. McCloskey,

Book cover of The Rhetoric of Economics

What is my book about?

Economists are poets / But don’t know it.  Economic modeling uses metaphors, not as mere ornaments or elucidations but as the very meat of the science (just as in physics or history). In her famous book, McCloskey illustrates the point with trenchant wit.  Her point is to not attack economics, but to show how it actually works its persuasions—for which she chooses great economists whose scientific work she admires. 

The books I picked & why

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Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge

By Paul Feyerabend,

Book cover of Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge

Why this book?

Read it to jolt you out of thinking that there is a Scientific Method like the one you heard about in high school chemistry. Feyerabend was trained as a physicist, and knew how scientists actually argue, as he shows here in a startling analysis of Galileo’s Dialogue.


The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change

By Thomas S. Kuhn,

Book cover of The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change

Why this book?

The book is much better than his famous but often misread The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, because it gets down to detailed cases in physics, in which Kuhn was trained. Though he never accepted the term, it amounts to a “rhetoric” of physics, that is, a study of, in Aristotle’s definition, the available means of persuasion in a science or a court of law.


Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice

By Harry Collins,

Book cover of Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice

Why this book?

Collins is a brilliant and lucid exponent of the (mainly British) “strong programme” in the sociology of science. He is one of the numerous “children of Kuhn,” in the sense that like Kuhn he understands scientists to be (usually) honest and serious human beings, not machines implementing an alleged Scientific Method.


Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent

By Wayne C. Booth,

Book cover of Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent

Why this book?

Booth was a professor of English at the University of Chicago and a president of the Modern Language Association. Surprisingly, he wrote this elegant book showing that Cartesian doubt as the basis of science (or of anything else) is silly, not a dogma that anyone can actually live by. Like the other books here, he shows even science to have—or course—a “rhetoric,” that is, “the art of discovering good reasons, finding what really warrants assent because any reasonable person ought to be persuaded by what has been said.”


Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

By Michael Polanyi,

Book cover of Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy

Why this book?

Polanyi, an eminent Hungarian Jewish chemist who spent his career at the University of Manchester, was the smarter brother of the more famous Karl Polanyi, the socialist economic historian. Michael (Mihály) shows in the book how science depends on ordinary, “personal” knowledge, as for example in riding a bicycle. He was a “liberal” in the European sense, unlike his brother, and saw the scientific community as analogous to a free market, and the free market as analogous to a scientific community.


5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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