, Volume 22, Issue 10, pp 2547-2568,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 06 Jun 2012

Values and Objectivity in Science: Value-Ladenness, Pluralism and the Epistemic Attitude

Abstract

My intention is to cast light on the characteristics of epistemic or fundamental research (in contrast to application-oriented research). I contrast a Baconian notion of objectivity, expressing a correspondence of the views of scientists to the facts, with a pluralist notion, involving a critical debate between conflicting approaches. These conflicts include substantive hypotheses or theories but extend to values as well. I claim that a plurality of epistemic values serves to accomplish a non-Baconian form of objectivity that is apt to preserve most of the intuitions tied to the objectivity of science. For instance, pluralism is the only way to cope with the challenge of preference bias. Furthermore, the plurality of epistemic values cannot be substantially reduced by exploring the empirical success of scientific theories distinguished in light of particular such values. However, in addition to pluralism at the level of theories and value-commitments alike, scientific research is also characterized by a joint striving for consensus which I trace back to a shared epistemic attitude. This attitude manifests itself, e.g., in the willingness of scientists to subject their claims to empirical scrutiny and to respect rational argument. This shared epistemic attitude is embodied in rules adopted by the scientific community concerning general principles of dealing with knowledge claims. My contention is that pluralism and consensus formation can be brought into harmony by placing them at different levels of consideration: at the level of scientific reasoning and at the level of social conventions regarding how to deal with claims put forward within the scientific community.

This article was completed while I was visiting the Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Many thanks go to my host Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. I am grateful to audiences in Bielefeld, Greifswald, London Ontario, Berlin, and Wuppertal for many helpful responses that did much to improving the argument.