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. 

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Paul Feyerabend,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Against Method as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Contemporary philosophy of science has paid close attention to the understanding of scientific practice, in contrast to the previous focus on scientific method. Paul Feyerabend's acclaimed work, which sparked controversy and continues to fuel fierce debate, shows the deficiencies of many widespread ideas about the nature of knowledge. He argues that the only feasible explanation of any scientific success is a historical account, and that anarchism must now replace rationalism in the theory of knowledge. This updated edition of this classic text contains a new foreword by Ian Hacking, a leading contemporary philosopher of science, who reflects on Feyerabend's life…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Thomas S. Kuhn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Essential Tension as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Kuhn has the unmistakable address of a man, who, so far from wanting to score points, is anxious above all else to get at the truth of matters."-Sir Peter Medawar, Nature

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

Why did I love 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.

By Harry Collins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Changing Order as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This fascinating study in the sociology of science explores the way scientists conduct, and draw conclusions from, their experiments. The book is organized around three case studies: replication of the TEA-laser, detecting gravitational rotation, and some experiments in the paranormal. "In his superb book, Collins shows why the quest for certainty is disappointed. He shows that standards of replication are, of course, social, and that there is consequently no outside standard, no Archimedean point beyond society from which we can lever the intellects of our fellows."--Donald M. McCloskey, Journal of Economic Psychology

Book cover of Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent

Why did I love 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.”

By Wayne C. Booth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When should I change my mind? What can I believe and what must I doubt? In this new "philosophy of good reasons" Wayne C. Booth exposes five dogmas of modernism that have too often inhibited efforts to answer these questions. Modern dogmas teach that "you cannot reason about values" and that "the job of thought is to doubt whatever can be doubted," and they leave those who accept them crippled in their efforts to think and talk together about whatever concerns them most. They have willed upon us a "befouled rhetorical climate" in which people are driven to two self-destructive…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Michael Polanyi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Personal Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The publication of Personal Knowledge in 1958 shook the science world, as Michael Polanyi took aim at the long-standing ideals of rigid empiricism and rule-bound logic. Today, Personal Knowledge remains one of the most significant philosophy of science books of the twentieth century, bringing the crucial concepts of “tacit knowledge” and “personal knowledge” to the forefront of inquiry.

In this remarkable treatise, Polanyi attests that our personal experiences and ways of sharing knowledge have a profound effect on scientific discovery. He argues against the idea of the wholly dispassionate researcher, pointing out that even in the strictest of sciences, knowing…

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