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Archive for August, 2009

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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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.

Science

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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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:

http://thehangedman.com/teaching/svd-syllabus.pdf

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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