, Volume 196, Issue 1, pp 355–375 | Cite as

The harms of ignoring the social nature of science

  • Sara WeaverEmail author


In this paper I argue that philosophers of science have an obligation to recognize and engage with the social nature of the sciences they assess if those sciences are morally relevant. Morally-relevant science is science that has the potential to risk harm to humans, non-humans, or the environment. My argument and the approach I develop are informed by an analysis of the philosophy of biology literature on the criticism of evolutionary psychology (EP), the study of the evolution of human psychology and behaviour. From this literature, I tease out two different methods of scientific critique. The first I call the “truth-detectional” approach. Those who take this approach are first and foremost concerned about the truth of EP claims as that truth can be determined by evidence. The second I call the “social-dimensional” approach. Those who take this approach talk about the production and truth of EP claims but within a social framework. On this account, the legitimacy and perceived legitimacy of EP claims are not separate from the institutional and social processes and values that lend to their production. I show that the truth-detectional approach risks harms to society and to the philosophy of science, but that the social-dimensional approach avoids these harms. Philosophers of science, therefore, should take a social-dimensional approach to the assessment of morally-relevant science.


Science and values Socially relevant philosophy of science Evolutionary psychology Feminist philosophy of science 



Thank you very much to Carla Fehr, Ingo Brigandt, and members of the University of Waterloo FemLab (Alexandra Kraushaar, Kathryn Plaisance, Jamie Sewell, Jay Michaud, Sandra DeVries, Teresa Branch-Smith) for comments on earlier drafts. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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