Science, values, and the value of science

Philosophy of Science 67 (3):57 (2000)
Protagonists in the so-called Science Wars differ most markedly in their views about the role of values in science and what makes science valuable. Scientists and philosophers of science have traditionally considered the principal aims of science to be explanation and application. Only cognitive values should influence what is taken to be explanatory. Social and political values affect the priority assigned to various scientific problems and the ways in which scientific results are applied. Ethical considerations may be brought to bear on the treatment of human and animal subjects, and the manner in which scientific results are communicated. Recent critiques of science allege that the content of scientific explanations reflects the dominant ideology and interests of scientists and their patrons. Instead of calling for more value neutrality, some now urge that science take as a principal aim the emancipation of oppressed subcultures. Not only should progressive political values be allowed to set the problems attempted, they also should be used to constrain the types of answers which are pursued. Since scientific knowledge is constructed by us, we should take responsibility for its content. This paper argues that the project of Emancipationist science is impractical and self-defeating. There is good reason to believe that there would be unresolvable political disputes concerning which kinds of scientific theories are truly emancipiatory. Furthermore, just as placebos cease to work when recognized as such, so would a science known to be constrained by political considerations lose its special epistemic authority
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DOI 10.1086/392808
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