140th Annual Richard T. Merrick Debate

The Society gathered for the 140th Annual Richard T. Merrick Debate, its most important debate of this semester, to engage with history, science and philosophy as we debate Resolved: Industry and the Scientific Method have failed our humanity. After a Merrick season of eleven debates, the Society selected its four most eloquent speakers to keynote on this special occasion.

On the Affirmation are:

Ms. Emily Coccia (COL ’15) of Pennsylvania

Mr. David Edgar (SFS ’15) of Ohio

On the Negation are:

Mr. Warren Wilson (SFS ’15) of Florida

Ms. Julia Christensen (COL ’15) of Oregon

At the deliberation of our eight esteemed judges, a Merrick Medal will be awarded to the keynoter who best exemplifies the Society’s motto of “Eloquence in Defense of Liberty.” This year, we are honored to have as our judges:

The Honorable Thomas L. Ambro, federal appeals judge with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Mr. Neil Bradley, who has served the Hill for twenty years

Rev. David Collins, S.J., Associate Professor and the Director of Doctoral Studies in the History Department

Dr. Mark Giordano, Associate Professor and the director of STIA program

The Honorable Maura Ann Harty, President and CEO of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Mr. Joseph Lhota, Vice President and Chief of Staff at NYU Langone Medical Center

Mr. Vija Udenans, Director of Managed Services and Staffing at the Maslow Medical Group, INC.

Mr. Jeffrey Wall, Co-Head of Sullivan and Cromwell’s Appellate Litigation Practice

Ms. Coccia first defined “industry” as organized labor with the purpose of increasing productivity and “the scientific method” as a skeptical attitude towards authority and traditions. She posited to the floor whether these two paradigms help or hinder “our humanity,” defined as human flourishing. In order to avoid a bucket debate, she answered this question on the level of mentality.

According to Ms. Coccia, industry and the scientific method exclude other ways of thinking: creativity, ambiguity and uncertainty, by asserting that “reason alone” leads to progress. In Huxley’s Brave New World, science produces perfectly productive humans, but also drugs them to content. Rejecting this “negative utopia under the banner of progress,” Ms. Coccia argued in favor of discomfort, “Like the savage, I too want struggle.” Studying literature disinterestedly, she also criticized the increasing commercialization of modern society that reduces humans into producers and consumers.

Ms. Coccia then provided a historical overlook of how reason gradually became “the best and the only real way” to understand humanity in its completeness. From Francis Bacon to the Dialectic of the Enlightenment to the contemporary “educational industry,” reason discouraged the reflective pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Science can produce both goods and horrors, but it has been abused to measure humans quantitatively without recognizing a complex, irreducible and irrational humanity.

Mr. Wilson, however, called such a dark vision a limited view and argued for a wider conception of science and for a recognition of the immense potential for human flourishing. He cited German Philosopher Dilthey to argue that science not just explains the world through natural science but also understands it through human science. He also praised Georgetown’s Professor Sabat, a psychologist who understands the importance of communications to Alzheimer patients. With “real robust science happening right now in these departments,” quantitative natural science is not pushing out the other science.

The industrial revolution, according to Mr. Wilson, is also a social revolution marked by the rise of a growing middle class and their liberal values. Productivity for the first time creates leisure time for other activities and empowers those without Huxley’s elite background. Human nature is indeed changed by industry and the scientific method, but it is changed for the better, for the immense freedom of flourishing.

Mr. Edgar started off with a story, in which people live in a town of sunny meadow surround by jungle and build up the walls of reason to escape confusion. But with the wall cracking and its original purpose forgotten, death and confusion eventually move in — Such is the result of a scientific method that cuts off reason from meaning.

Mr. Edgar then distinguished between the industrial workmen and the Ancient Greek artists and artisans. Reading Homer, he claimed that craft and occupation used to embody an artisan’s human nature. But now, they reduce the modern workmen to interchangeable parts and a universalized humanity. Industry and the scientific method precludes humanity from the initiation of its particular essences.

Ms. Christensen questioned this mischaracterization of the scientific method through her own experience in quantitative data politics. The scientific method, according to her, is “just another tool and an incredibly valuable one.” Data is always accompanied by theory and the scientific method also recognizes data’s limit. Furthermore, the scientific method creates opportunity for seeking out jobs, a freedom once limited only to the incredibly privileged.

She then warned us against conflating capitalism and industry. Industry, in its purest form, simply produces more things to fulfill basic human needs and to keep humans alive. With the resolution indicating a causal relationship rather than a referendum of the modern world, she questioned if we would really go back to live as noble savages in the wild. After all, pain confronts our humanity just as much as, or even more than, comfort.

Mr. Mouch discussed the Trolley car problem posed by the scientific method. He also noted the shift in mentality away from sustenance working after wages went down during the Industrial Revolution. Mr. Kendrick stressed the negation’s Enlightenment vision that everything is capable of being known. The failing of the modern age lies not in the scientific method, but in our consistent effort to apply it to the meaning and purposes of human life. While Mr. Kendrick commended the Industrial Revolution as valuing common man, Ms. Rallis criticized it for leaving people behind, supported by the book Great Escape. Mr. Young, however, found it impossible to come closer to the middle ground of truth without industry and science. Presenting the world of the 14th century as the alternative, he declared that “I know I didn’t want to live in this world.”

Ms. Egan set up a distinction between the scientific method and the culture of science. While singing the praises of science in itself, she showed how a political culture that thrives in consensus applies science “to the detriment of human connections.” But Mr. Wang advocated for science as the universal language connecting human beings. He also cited the discussion section of a scientific thesis to show the interpretive and cooperative element within the scientific method.

Ms. Ringwald argued that industry is inseparable from capitalism when neurobiologists rush to work for pharmaceutical companies. Although human psychi should be understood in its subjectivity, effective diagnosis programs based on this principal simply do not receive attention. Mr. Ahmed brought in religion and considered “the death of God [as] the most promising thing for our faith.” After the scientific method broke free the conformity and certainty of the pre-scientific era, our deliberate act of faith presents the greatest service to our humanity. Ms. Kurek rebuked that industry fails our humanity by bringing in interest into the scientific method.

Ms. Christensen decided to push back against a romanticized vision of the past and questioned if there is any evidence to show the lower class once connected to their jobs. In her opinion, it is also not reason alone, but our application of experience to reason that historically misconstrued women and minorities. The scientific method, on the other hand, is not about perfection but about recognizing the world’s imperfectness and grappling with its uncertainty. As a key part of Communist Russia, the industry is also not equivalent to capitalism. It might be missing out a larger picture by sectionalizing knowledge, but it at least allows us to fully understand the smaller picture of ourselves. On a net basis, industry and the scientific method provide freedom of choices, increase social and physical mobility, recognize our limits and challenge the dominant orders of the world.

Mr. Edgar admitted the lack of evidence but asked, “What does your intuition tell you?” The increase in utility does not guarantee an increase in humanity and the discussion of the scientific method in its purest form does not fully address its impact. He further questioned the negation’s promise of leisure time by asking “what do we do in leisure time?” – Escapism and the avoidance of self. Tying his speech back to the opening story, Mr. Edgar concluded that, when the wall is cracking, we either sit here claiming there is no problem or walk out of the walls.

Mr. Wilson pointed out Ancient Greeks’ irresolvable moral crisis when faced with conflicting responsibilities. Yet modernity offers the answer to this crisis by granting genuine freedom through the scientific method. According to Mr. Wilson, modern people do genuinely enjoy their vocation and, if not, at least can enjoy the multiplicity of their identity. Pointing downstairs, he also noted the diverse and productive religious life made possible only through the new dynamics between science and religion — a respect for individual choices. Asking us to look at how science actually functions in our life, he asserted that “In that space of ambiguity, beautiful things happen.”

Ms. Coccia responded that we should think about everyone else, especially those exploited by the modern industry. What she argued against was not the modern world but its world view. She cited the example of her co-workers who work extra-hours on the weekend but earn a mere $3.75 per hour as waiters and waitresses. They become what Oscar Wilde called “slaves of machinery” and their Occupation Movement was discouraged and vilified by the society. She rejected “a rose-colored glasses picture” painted by the negation and presented how digital humanity abandons the discussion of “should” for the observation of “is.” In the end, Ms. Coccia asked us to go beyond the quagmire of here and now for a better there and then.

The keynoters then selected the best floor speaker to receive the Father Ryder Gavel. Congratulations to Ms. Caroline Egan for deservedly winning the award! The judges announced the winner of the 2015 Merrick Medal to be Ms. Julia Christensen! I heartily congratulate her for winning the award with her scientific insight and remarkable eloquence without a pre-written speech. I also congratulate all the keynoters for bringing into the debate their incredible knowledge of literature, philosophy and history. I should also note that this wonderful event would not be possible without the effort of Vice President Thanki and Treasurer Perez-Reyes. Finally, with a vote of 54-1-22, this resolution was negated.



Xinlan Hu

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