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Reviewed by:
  • Current Controversies in Values and Science ed. by Kevin C. Elliott, Daniel Steel
  • Inmaculada de Melo-Martín
Kevin C. Elliott, Daniel Steel, eds. Current Controversies in Values and Science, Routledge, 2017.

As a general claim, most philosophers of science accept that science is not value-free. The disagreements lie in the proverbial details. The essays in Current Controversies in Values and Science, edited by Kevin Elliott and Daniel Steel focus on such details. Like other volumes in the Routledge Current Controversies in Philosophy’s series, this one asks ten well-known philosophers of science to engage with various questions. Each question receives roughly positive and negative responses, though the authors’ nuanced answers make clear that the contrasting views also involve significant agreement.

The first question asks whether we can distinguish epistemic from nonepistemic values. Hugh Lacey argues that such methodological distinction is not only possible but also desirable. For him, different attitudes are appropriate regarding scientific theories and attention to these different attitudes demonstrates the importance of the distinction. Epistemic—or rather cognitive—values are those that allow us to evaluate how well a scientific theory provides understanding of a particular phenomenon. Non-epistemic values, and in particular social values, on the other hand, allow us to evaluate social arrangements and social institutions and practices. Only cognitive values, Lacey contends, are relevant to deciding whether a theory is impartially held of a set of phenomena. But scientific theories can be more than just impartially held. They can also be adopted, i.e., used as basis for further research, or endorsed, i.e., used to inform decision-making. According to Lacey, non-cognitive values are relevant to the justification of the attitudes of adopting and endorsing, even if they do not play a proper role in impartially holding a theory.

Phyllis Rooney agrees that a general methodological distinction between epistemic or cognitive values and non-epistemic ones is possible, but she questions the usefulness of a sharp distinction. Her contention is that rather than a strict delineation, we find a “robust borderlands area” between [End Page E-5] epistemic and non-epistemic values. Rooney questions the sharpness of an epistemic/non-epistemic values distinction on various grounds. First, she argues, philosophers disagree even about what values count as epistemic or cognitive. This is so, she points out, because science has a multiplicity of legitimate goals, and what one takes to be scientific inquiry’s primary goal(s) will affect what counts as an epistemic value. Second, non-epistemic values are hardly a uniform group, but more importantly, the use of some of those values, e.g., feminist values, has clearly contributed to the development of epistemically sound theories.

Although at first sight it might appear that Lacey and Rooney defend opposing sides, the disagreements are more a question of emphasis. For Lacey, the distinction between epistemic/non-epistemic values is important because a failure to make such delineation effectively gives scientists more authority in policy decisions than they should have. Rooney is however concerned that drawing that distinction risks inappropriately delegitimizing the use of some non-epistemic values when conducting research while legitimizing the use of some epistemic values that depend on people’s judgments about what the primary goal of science might be. Both agree that non-epistemic values can and should play very significant roles in scientific inquiry.

The second question tackled in the collection concerns whether science must be committed to prioritizing epistemic over non-epistemic values. Daniel Steel argues for a qualified priority of epistemic concerns in science. He offers two arguments for his position. First, science, he contends, has an immediate aim, which is to advance knowledge. Second, a rejection of the priority of epistemic values can lead to what he calls the “Ibsen predicament,” wherein attempts to promote a valued social aim can lead to corrupted science. Steel claims that only maintaining the priority of epistemic values can protect us against this outcome.

Matthew Brown presents the opposing view and argues that we should reject any strong version of the priority of epistemic values thesis. He presents three arguments to defend his claim. First, epistemic and nonepistemic considerations are too entangled in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3249
Print ISSN
1054-6863
Pages
pp. E-5-E-10
Launched on MUSE
2019-05-08
Open Access
No
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