Psychology's facts and values: A perennial entanglement

Philosophical Psychology 18 (6):749 – 765 (2005)
The idea of a logical and metaphysical gap between facts and values is taken for granted in much psychology. Howard Kendler has recently defended the standard view that human values cannot be discovered by psychology. In contrast, various postmodern approaches have sought to attack the fact-value dichotomy with the argument that psychological facts are inevitably morally and politically laden, and therefore relative. In this article, a third line of thought is pursued, significantly inspired by philosopher of science, Hilary Putnam. It is argued that knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of values, and that value judgments can be objectively right. In this light, the objectivity of scientific facts is not threatened by their entanglement with values. Psychology's objects can be described accurately only with value concepts, among them "thick ethical concepts." Different ways in which psychological science presupposes values are outlined. Finally, it is suggested that the distinction between epistemic and moral values is rarely useful in psychology, and should not be thought of as absolute.
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