Does Science Persecute Women? The case of the 16th–17th Century Witch-hunts



I. Logic, rationality and ideology

Herbert Marcuse once claimed that the ‘“rational” is a mode of thought and action which is geared to reduce ignorance, destruction, brutality, and oppression.’ He echoed a widespread folk belief that a world in which people were rational would be a better world. This could be taken as an optimistic empirical conjecture: if people were more rational then probably the world would be a better place (a trust that ‘virtue will be rewarded’, so to speak). However, it is also worth considering a stronger hypothesis: that if something did not reduce ignorance, destruction, brutality, and oppression then it would not constitute rationality. On this view there is no mere correlation between rationality and a propensity toward reduction in ignorance and the rest, it is the propensity to reduce ignorance, destruction, brutality and oppression which in part constitutes rationality. Call this a broad conception of rationality, because it expands beyond the epistemic goal of reducing ignorance, and reaches out to moral concerns like oppression.