Scientific change as political action: Franz Boas and the anthropology of race

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 37 (1):24-45 (2007)
Abstract
A theory is value-neutral when no constitutive values are part of its content. Nonneutral theories seem to lack objectivity because it is not clear how the constitutive values could be empirically confirmed. This article analyzes Franz Boas’s famous arguments against nineteenth-century evolutionary anthropology and racial theory. While he recognized that talk of "higher civilizations" encoded a constitutive, political value with consequences for slavery and colonialism, he argued against it on empirical and methodological grounds. Boas’s arguments thus provide a model of how, under the right conditions, scientific inquiry can provide empirically objective grounds for political critique. Key Words: value-freedom • Franz Boas • race • objectivity • neutrality.
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