Lexicon

Modest Witness I Donna Haraway

In a critique of scientific objectivity, Donna Haraway looks to Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s treatment of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), chemist and inventor of the air-pump in order to examine the notion of the modest witness which she contends is one of the founding virtues of what we call modernity. “This is the virtue that guarantees that the modest witness is the legitimate and authorized ventriloquist for the object world, adding nothing from his mere opinions, from his biasing embodiment. And so he is endowed with the remarkable power to establish the facts. He bears witness: he is objective; he guarantees the clarity and purity of objects. His subjectivity is his objectivity. His narratives have a magical power—they lose all trace of their history as stories, as products of partisan projects, as contestable representations, or as constructed documents in their potent capacity to define the facts. The narratives become clear mirrors, fully magical mirrors, without once appealing to the transcendental or the magical.