Du Bois’ democratic defence of the value free ideal

Abstract

Philosophers of science debate the proper role of non-epistemic value judgements in scientific reasoning. Many modern authors oppose the value free ideal, claiming that we should not even try to get scientists to eliminate all such non-epistemic value judgements from their reasoning. W. E. B. Du Bois, on the other hand, has a defence of the value free ideal in science that is rooted in a conception of the proper place of science in a democracy. In particular, Du Bois argues that the value free ideal must be upheld in order to, first, retain public trust in science and, second, ensure that those best placed to make use of scientifically acquired information are able to do so. This latter argument turns out to relate Du Bois’ position on the value free ideal in science to his defence of epistemic democracy. In this essay I elaborate, motivate, and relate to the modern debate, Du Bois’ under-appreciated defence of the value free ideal.

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Correspondence to Liam Kofi Bright.

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Thanks to Chike Jeffers, Teddy Seidenfeld, Haixin Dang, Olúfmi O. Táíwò, Daniel Malinsky, Bryce Huebner, Helen De Cruz, and (especially) Zina B. Ward, as well as anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments on this paper.

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Bright, L.K. Du Bois’ democratic defence of the value free ideal. Synthese 195, 2227–2245 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1333-z

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Keywords

  • W. E. B. Du Bois
  • Value free ideal
  • Epistemic democracy