Richard Tuck

Richard Tuck, a lecturer in history at the University of Cambridge, is the author of Natural Rights Theories (1979).


Richard Tuck, 19 February 1987

‘Scientists’ in our culture are (in many disciplines) people who perform ‘experiments’ in ‘laboratories’ and ‘testify’ about them to a wider community of like-minded people who then try to draw conclusions from the ‘facts’ put before them. The subject of this entertaining and important study is in effect the emergence of this practice and the removal of quotation-marks from these hitherto contentious or puzzling terms. Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer are historians of ‘science’ who were led by their discontent with the hegemony of experimentation to study the controversy between Robert Boyle, patron saint or founding shaman of the experimental method, and his most profound and systematic opponent Thomas Hobbes: a controversy which began in 1661 with the publication of Hobbes’s Dialogus physicus de natura aeris and which continued in a variety of forms into the 1670s. Leviathan and the Air-Pump is the result of that study, and it includes as an appendix an almost complete translation (by Schaffer) of the Dialogus physicus.


Richard Tuck, 16 July 1981

The refutation of utilitarianism, and its replacement by some new and comprehensive alternative, has become one of the major Anglo-American growth industries. The problem of how to live with a liberal and mildly interventionist state if we no longer accept the premisses upon which such a state was originally founded has rightly exercised philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic, though it is striking how difficult it has proved for them fully to disentangle themselves from the old ways of thinking. Bruce Ackerman’s Social Justice in the Liberal State is the latest work to consider these matters. It is distinguished by two features: one is its unusual heuristic device of what he calls ‘dialogic’ method, and the other is the seriousness with which it takes the familiar call for a plurality of political and moral visions – ‘conceptions of the good’, in Ackerman’s terminology. His argument starts from a simple question: ‘what would our social world look like if no one ever suppressed another’s question of legitimacy, where every questioner met with a conscientious attempt at an answer?’ To answer this question, he imagines a set of dialogues consisting of claims for special treatment in some area of social life by one agent countered with scepticism from another, and supposes that any dialogue which ends in silence on the part of one participant represents a defeat for his claim and (in an ideal world) his failure to make it good in terms of the real conditions of social life.

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