Budget Cuts, Hooray??, a blast from the past for Nick Corduan

Mon, 22 May 1995 22:23:08 EST

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (1812) on the question of Native American

"Whether Serpents Teeth were sown here and sprung up Men; whether Men
and Women dropped from the Clouds upon the Atlantic Island; whether
the Almighty created them here, or whether they immigrated from
Europe, are questions of no moment to the present or future happiness of
Man [sic]. Neither Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures, Fisheries,
Science, Literature, Taste, Religion, Morals, nor any other good will
be promoted, or any Evil averted, by any discoveries that can be
made in answer to those questions."

Exactly what benefits would we want, or what evils should we wish to
avoid in order to justify funding from anyone (let alone the government)?
In a sense whomever funds one project over another is de facto guiding
research to a certain extent. The traditional argument has been that
if the government doesn't fund it then corporations will have to and they
are often depicted as less trustworthy than the government. That
argument no longer has the bite that it used to, but it does leave us
with a predicament, especially if we begin from the premise that the only
reason to fund something is its OBVIOUS or IMMEDIATE utility. A lot of
embarrassing research was funded in the name of utility (think of C. B.
Davenport and co.). What good and what evil and what utility do we
want to talk about here?

Brad D. Hume
History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University