Archive for the ‘Science, Values, and Democracy (Fall 2009)’ Category

This is an experiment I’m trying out. I’d like to invite all of the participants of my seminar on Science, Values, and Democracy to become contributors to this blog, and members of the larger philosophy of science, sciences studies, and UTD communities to comment.

You can find the syllabus for the course here:


If you’re interested in contributing, just fire me an email.

Next week’s reading is one of the more intense of the quarter (Part one of The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice. It’s five essays of fairly serious philosophy. It’s not like reading Heidegger or anything, but it will take you some time and careful attention to work your way through it. I look forward to next week’s discussion!

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By way of explaining the rationale behind the course—and by extension, this blog—it might be helpful to examine the triad of terms that define our topic.


Whatever claims we’ll make about the influence of values, democracy, or politics on the sciences, the natural sciences are the test case. If we can establish such a claim there, the case is much easier for the social sciences or technology. The reverse isn’t true, since excuses can be made in the latter cases for the lack of “purity” such that natural science remains untouched. Nonetheless, I’ll chiefly use the term “science” as broadly as possible, unless otherwise necessary and noted, to include natural and social sciences, modern technology, and medicine.

Now, when we talk about science, we could mean either of two things:

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Here’s my preliminary thoughts on today’s reading, Part I of The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice: Science and Values Revisited, The Play of Values Within the Core Areas of Scientific Research.

First off, let me say, for those of you who made it through all the readings, good work! I realize now that this is one of the tougher sets of readings, in terms of quantity (five essays by separate authors), technical sophistication, and diversity of topics (some intricacies of confirmation theory, the history of biometrics and population genetics, feminist philosophy and politics, images of science, pragmatism, realism, and constructive empiricism, etc.). Most weeks will either be less material, material that is all of a piece, or at a lower level of technicality.

To bring all this together, I want to touch on some main themes and questions in this section. These authors run the gamut from old-fashioned anti-values folks, to fairly nuanced middle positions, to strong advocates for a science entirely inflected with social values. Comparing their views helps to bring out some differing assumptions and approaches.


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Time to finish up my thoughts on the first section of The Challenge of the Social and the Pressure of Practice. If you haven’t done so, you might want to read my earlier post first. I hope you’ll share your thoughts as well.

One thing we don’t want to do in this complex and controversial discussion of science and values is to talk past one another, to seem to agree or disagree when we are in fact talking about different subjects. One way we might make that mistake is to not specify, or not be clear about, where, exactly, science is supposed to be influenced by values. The authors in this section are, by and large, fairly clear about this, though you might miss it if you don’t look to carefully.


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Philip Kitcher’s Science, Truth, and Democracy aims to give much-needed attention to those questions which, in his estimation, philosophy of science ought to be able to answer: “the ethical status of various kinds of scientific research, the impact that science has had on our values, [and] the role that the sciences play in contemporary democracies”(xi).  These questions are, Kitcher thinks, both natural ones deserving to be posed and answered, as well as ones that are traditionally ignored by philosophers of science.

In the book, Kitcher is contending with two extreme perspectives on science, the “science enthusiasts” who believe that true science is the pure search for objective knowledge, to which questions of ethics, values, and politics are irrelevant, and the “science detractors” who deny that objectivity, viewing science as thoroughly infected by values and politics, in such a way that science tends to be an “instrument of oppression”(xi).

Kitcher’s via media is to provide a two-part account of the proper role of science in a democracy. In the first part, Kitcher argues against the detractors that science is, indeed, an objective, truth-seeking enterprise, but against the enthusiasts, he argues that the contents of science are contextual and interest-relative—both what we inquire into and the categories that structure are inquiry are sensitive to our interests and purposes. This part culminates in the claim that what science seeks is not mere truth, but significant truth, and scientific significance is a matter of the practical and epistemic interests served by various scientific ideas and projects, along with the myriad logical and empirical connections between them. Today’s reading covers this first part.

In the second part, this contextual representation of scientific significance is used as an input to an ideal democratic procedure—a deliberation between idealized representatives of the preferences of actual citizens take up this information, mutually inform one another about their preferences, with the goal of consensus at best, or a majority-supported compromise at worst—with the output being the ideal research agenda for science, a schedule of priorities for research meeting the interests and purposes of our society. Kitcher calls this ideal “well-ordered science,” and setting out this ideal, defending it, and tracing its consequences for the responsibilities of actually practicing scientists is the main goal of the second half of the book, which we will discuss next week.

To start off the discussion, let me just raise some questions about Part 1:


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I didn’t manage a follow-up to my post on the first part of Kitcher’s book. This is actually a topic I’ve written about, so you can see my thoughts on Kitcher in the early sections of that paper. I seem to have failed to convince anybody in class that “curiosity” is not a good way of capturing the whole of epistemic significance, but it is one of my main arguments in the paper. (I’m working on getting that paper published, so any comments on it would be appreciated.)

I’d like to talk a little bit about Kitcher’s recommendation for understanding the role of science in a democracy. First, let me point out what I think is an inconsistency in Kitcher’s setup for the discussion.


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This week, we’re discussing the first four chapters of George Reisch’s book, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science, Don Howard’s “Two Left Turns Make a Right” (from Logical Empiricism in North America, which also has several other great essays), and Alan Richardson’s “Engineering Philosophy of Science: American Pragmatism and Logical Empiricism in the 1930s”

In the Introduction to Science, Truth, and Democracy, Philip Kitcher begins,

From time to time, when I explain to a new acquaintance that I’m a philosopher of science, my interlocutor will nod agreeably and remark that that surely means I’m interested in the ethical status of various kinds of scientific research, the impact that science has had on our values, or the role that the sciences play in contemporary democracies. Although this common response hardly corresponds to what professional philosophers of science have done for the past decades, or even centuries, it is perfectly comprehensible. (xi, emphasis added)

And later, he describes his book “as an attempt to venture into areas that philosophers of science have neglected“(xiii, likewise).

One of the goals of this week’s readings is to call into question the historical claim that the sort of topics discussed by Kitcher (and likewise, by Longino, Kourany, etc.) have been generally neglected by philosophers of science.


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HUHI 6305 students – this is a description of a research project that I’ve been working on lately that I’ve been planning on discussing a bit on the blog, not because it is relevant to any particular week’s discussion, but because it is an interesting case study for supplementing the general discussions of the course, exemplifying many of the themes that carry on from week to week. I also want to put it up as an example of what I’m looking for in your project descriptions for those choosing the blog-based option

Everyone: I would be grateful for any comments or references on the abstract and the themes I’m planning to discuss. I’ve been engaged in work on Marston and close reading of his theories for some time, but this is my first major research project in history and philosophy of psychology, and I would appreciate pointers.


While at best, William Moulton Marston is remembered today in the history of psychology for making contributions to the creation of the lie detector test, he was in his time, particularly in the 1920’s, a major figure both within the discipline of psychology and in the public eye. Indeed, at his peak Marston’s public exposure probably rivaled the likes of Freud, Skinner, or Chomsky as a public face of psychology, though his theories had nothing like their lasting influence, and his time in the limelight was considerably shorter. Despite the fact that his theories had little impact on the subsequent development of the field of psychology, Marston’s work is instructive in several ways for philosophers of science and philosophers of psychology. Besides being a highly interesting early attempt to draw conclusions about emotions and cognition on the basis of work in neuroscience, it is an interesting case study in the relation between science and values. Marston’s research is inflected by his (unorthodox) feminist values and parallels in important ways the work of feminist scientists since the 1980’s who have insisted that the introduction of enlightened (including feminist) values into scientific research can be a positive methodological resource. Marston’s theories also imply strong normative conclusions for psycho-emotional health and education, claims which do not depend on and are not consistent with statistically average behavior or dominant social norms. His book on the emotions culminates in a chapter on emotional re-education, which he later enacts through various forms of what he calls “psychological propaganda”: popular psychology books like Try Living (1937) and March On! (1941), articles on psychology for various magazines like Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Reader’s Digest, a novel called Venus With Us: A Tale of the Caesar (1932) and creating the iconic comic book superheroine, Wonder Woman (the other achievement for which Marston is very well known). Marston thus provides us with an unusual study of the goals and applications of psychological research, including the potential uses of popularization and popular culture as a mode of scientific application. In this essay, I will examine the main features of Marston’s psychological theories, primarily as set out in his main works, The Emotions of Normal People (1928) and Integrative Psychology (1931), against the context of Marston’s values as exhibited through his statements and what is known about his personal life. I will look at the mutual interactions between science and values in his work: first, I will examine the parallels between Marston’s work and other value-laden feminist research; then, I will look at the various ways that Marston applies his research towards the attempt to reform individuals and society.

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[Editor's note: The following is a guest post from Sabrina Starnaman, Ph.D. candidate in Literature at UC-San Diego and currently a visiting scholar at UT-Dallas. I asked Sabrina to write this post because she comes out of that part of the humanities that Sokal was most attacking: literature and cultural studies. Sabrina kindly agreed, and below she raises some important issues to think about.]

Rereading the texts that comprise the Sokal affair and its aftermath, I am struck by how fresh it still feels, even more than twenty years later. In fact, in a current disciplinary theater of conflict within Cultural Studies the Sokal hoax has been alluded to many times (see Michael Berube’s September 14, 2009 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled What’s the Matter with Cultural Studies which started the most recent debate). While I am not a Science Studies or Cultural Studies of Science scholar, I do come from a Cultural Studies background and that is how I interpret the significance of the event. It is a milestone in the history of Science Studies and the Cultural Studies of Science. It is still referenced as a supreme example of academic betrayal. Perhaps one of the harshest blows is that it created just the sort of evidence that a disparate set of critics could use to set upon a field of work, bloodying it afresh with little regard for the complexities of historical, institutional, and political context.

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Here’s some background information for my project on the psychology of William Moulton Marston.

Who Was William Moulton Marston?

Little remembered today in the halls of psychology departments, William Moulton Marston (b. 1893 – d. 1947) was in his time very widely known to the American public. Marston was by turns an academic psychologist and psychological theorist, a popularizer, and a relentless self-promoter. He did much of the basic research on and was a proponent of the lie detector test, and he wrote novels and comic books. He is perhaps best-known today by comic book fans, for creating the iconic character Wonder Woman, and in management and human resources circles for pioneering the DISC theory of personality types. His life and work are of interest far beyond these groups, however.

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