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L 66 T he debate among philosophers of science in the 1950s concerning values in science hinged on the proper role of scientists in a modern democracy. Should scientists be giving advice to decisionmakers ? And should they, when giving this advice, consider the context of use and the potential consequences of error when deciding what to say? Or should scientists decide which empirical claims are adequately supported with no thought to the importance of these claims to society? These questions fundamentally concern the moral responsibilities of scientists as scientists . If, with Rudner and Churchman, one thinks that scientists should consider the potential consequences of error when deciding which claims to make, then values have an unavoidable place in scientific reasoning. If, with Levi and McMullin, one thinks that scientists should not be considering the potential consequences of error, then scientists can safely exclude social and ethical values from the heart of scientific reasoning.1 Which is the correct view? Should scientists consider the potential consequences of error in their advising? This question involves two general aspects. First, there is the question of whether all of us, as general moral agents, have a responsibility to consider the consequences of error when deliberating over choices, and in particular when deciding upon which empirical claims to make. I will argue here that we do have a general moral responsibility to consider the consequences of error, based on our concern over reckless or negligent behavior. Second, there is the question of whether Chapter 4 The Moral Responsibilities of Scientists Douglas text.indd 66 4/16/09 2:47:08 PM the moral responsibilities of scientists • 67 scientists share this burden with the rest of us, or whether they have a special moral exemption from such considerations. In other words, we must ask whether scientists have a special professional status which means they should not consider the consequences of their work as scientists. This is a view that has been supported by some in the recent past and must be addressed seriously. In the end, I will argue that scientists do have a moral responsibility to consider the consequences of error in their work, but that this responsibility places no burden of special foresight on the scientists. We cannot expect scientists to be seers. Indeed, the very errors we are concerned with here mean that we cannot expect perfect foresight and prediction. But we should expect reasonable foresight and care from our scientists. Being a scientist provides no special exemption from this expectation. Moral Responsibility and the Consequences of Error The literature on moral responsibility has developed much in recent years, but it has mostly focused on three general issues: competence (when is a person morally capable of making decisions and thus is responsible for them), coercion (what kind of forces on a person make their choices not their own, but rather due to someone else, thus shifting moral responsibility ), and causation (what conception of causality allows for both enough free will and enough foresight so that we can be considered responsible for the outcomes of our actions).2 While the discussion around these issues is fascinating, none of it is very illuminating for our concerns here. With respect to competence, scientists are generally capable moral agents, as capable in their daily lives as the rest of us. No one has seriously argued that scientific training somehow impairs moral reasoning or moral sentiments. With respect to coercion, scientists are not usually under threat of force to not consider certain moral issues. Coercion would be considered as pathological in science as it would anywhere else. And the issue of causation applies just as much for scientists as for anyone else; either we have a causal structure that allows for moral responsibility, or we do not. More relevant to our concerns here are what is moral responsibility in general and what are our responsibilities with respect to consequences we do not intend to cause. Let me address each of these in turn. What do we mean when we say a person is morally responsible for some action or for an outcome of an action? One basic distinction is between causal responsibility and moral responsibility. I may be causally necessary , and thus partially causally responsible, for the eventual actions of my great-grandchildren, but few would suggest I was morally responsible Douglas text.indd 67 4/16/09 2:47:08 PM 68 • the moral responsibilities of scientists for them, that I should be praised or blamed for...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822973577
Related ISBN
9780822960263
MARC Record
OCLC
794702159
Pages
224
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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