This paper seeks to understand the rise and fall of passive voice in the publications of the Royal Society from 1665 to 2020. Though it came to be seen as the very voice of scientific objectivity, passive voice remained in the clear ascendency for just over a century. The rise of passive voice coincided with the progressively diminished role of an observer who directly apprehends the world through the senses. The recent re-emergence of active voice is more of a puzzle. I argue that the unsettled history of voice reflects the unsettled relationship of science to agency and conscious experience.
© 2023 by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology