Lawrence H. Summers
Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University

Are faith and reason incompatible?

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Larry Summers on truth, debate, academia and George W. Bush.

Lawrence H. Summers

Lawrence H. Summers is an American economist. He is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard University, where he became one of the university's youngest tenured faculty at age 28.

The author of over 150 journal articles, Dr. Summers' wide-ranging contributions to economic research were recognized with the John Bates Clark Medal, given every two years to the outstanding American economist under the age of 40. He was also the first social scientist to receive the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award for outstanding scientific achievement.

Beyond his academic career, Dr. Summers has held a number of distinguished appointments in government. He previously served as Director of the National Economic Council for the Obama Administration, Secretary of the Treasury for the Clinton Administration, and Chief Economist of the World Bank.

Lawrence Summers received his S.B. from MIT and his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard. He and his wife Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard, have six children.


Lawrence Summers: We have an administration [i.e. the George W. Bush administration] that takes pride in the fact that its policies are based on faith and conviction rather than reason and evidence. In a very different corner, in large parts of the academic world, the parts of the academic world that would almost define themselves by the opposition to what the administration stands for, there’s a belief that truth is an arbitrary social construct, or a reflection of power relations rather than reality. And the great virtue of debate is respect for each other’s positions.

And I have very much the opposite sense. The great virtue of debate is to understand it better, and you come closer to a better answer.


Recorded on: June 2007.