Institut für Philosophie

Institut für Philosophie

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Lehrveranstaltungen im aktuellen Semester

Values in Science



[Note: this class will be held primarily in English. However, we will attempt to create a ‘German-friendly’ atmosphere: you are highly encouraged to request translations and ask questions or make comments in German in class, and are welcome to turn in any written work in either language. Please contact me if you are interested in attending but are unsure if your English skills are sufficient.]

Science is almost universally thought to be valuable in virtue of providing us with both knowledge about the natural world and the technology we need to survive and thrive within it. Often, the success of science in meeting these goals is explained in terms of its objectivity. While this notion itself has undergone significant changes, one recurring theme among different accounts of objectivity has been the view that scientific reasoning shouldn't be influenced by our political, religious, moral, or social values. On this view, science is concerned only with the facts, and the facts, we might say, are what they are regardless of our interests, needs, or desires.

There are, of course, some parts of the broader scientific process that are influenced by values without thereby threatening objectivity. For example, we make value judgements when deciding what topics are worthy of study and how to use the results of our research. Despite this, the general consensus has long been that values should, at least ideally, play no role in the ‘heart’ of science — experimental design, data collection and interpretation, theory evaluation, etc. — an idea known as the ‘value-free ideal’. In one form or another, the value-free ideal has been extremely influential in shaping the self-conception of scientists, the popular understanding of science, and various institutions concerned with facilitating science and applying its results to policy.

In recent years, however, the value-free ideal has increasingly come under attack by philosophers of science. While some cast doubt on our ability to separate science and values entirely, others challenge the notion that this should be an ideal for science in the first place. Defenders, however, claim that rejecting the value-free ideal amounts to giving up on objectivity, and thereby threatens the very characteristic of science that accounts for its success. They point to various historical and contemporary cases of politicized science — e.g. Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union or the current widespread denial of climate science by Republicans in the United States — as examples of the destructive force of allowing values and science to mix freely.

In this seminar, we will examine the issue of values in science by way of two guiding questions. First, what are the major ways in which scientific reasoning can be influenced by values? Second, how can we tell whether or not such influences are acceptable or not? The course is structured around Kevin Elliott’s book, A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science, from Oxford University Press. It is recommended that students purchase the book, but it will also be available in the library for copying and as an e-book. Readings from the book will be supplemented by various classic and contemporary texts, all of which will be uploaded in Stud.IP.

While much of the philosophical work on this topic is quite arcane and abstract, Elliott’s book takes a more interdisciplinary approach and works extensively with real-world case studies. Some of the examples we will discuss include: attempts to study gender-based differences in cognitive abilities; funding medical research on the (relatively rare) diseases of North Americans and Western Europeans vs. those more common and devastating around the globe; the unforeseen problems of introducing vitamin-enriched ‘golden’ rice to combat blindness in poor countries; community participation in studying the effects of industrial contamination; data suppression and other problematic scientific practices by for-profit pharmaceutical companies; the balancing of risk and caution in regulating industrial chemicals; the effects of AIDS activism on scientific research; feminist critiques of masculine biases in anthropology and primatology; and various aspects of values as they enter into scientific study and debates about climate change.

To receive credit, all students must take part in in-class group work. Those requiring 4 ECTS are additionally required to give a 10 minute presentation on one of the supplemental readings. Those requiring 5 ECTS will write a ca. 10 page term paper. Alternative tasks may be available in special circumstances; see the syllabus for details.

Weitere Angaben

Veranstaltungsart: Seminar (Offizielle Lehrveranstaltungen)
Veranstaltungsnummer: 8.4311
Ort: 69/118
Zeiten: Di. 12:00 - 14:00 (wöchentlich)
Erster Termin: Di , 14.04.2020 12:00 - 14:00, Ort: 69/118


  • Philosophie > Veranstaltungen
  • Philosophie > Aufbaumodul Praktische Philosophie: „Gesellschaft & Staat“
  • Philosophie > Aufbaumodul Theoretische Philosophie: „Erkenntnis & Wirklichkeit“