Conditions of Science: The Three-Way Tension of Freedom, Accountability and Utility

  • Torsten Wilholt
  • Hans Glimell
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 274)


Participants in political debates over science typically support their case by appealing to one specific way in which scientific research is connected to something we all value. In this paper, we lay out an argumentative map that displays six ideal types of ways in which science can be seen as connected to social values and benefits. With regard to the conditions of science, the corresponding six arguments point into three general and conflicting directions, characterized by the ideas of freedom, accountability and utility of research, respectively. We argue that the resulting three-way tension pervades science policy. We identify a set of strategies and priorities that have historically played an important role in science policy after World War II in Europe and the USA, and place them within our argumentative framework. Our analysis suggests that while science policy debates have so far primarily focused on the questions “how much”, and later “how”, i.e., on appropriate administrative procedures to regulate the relation between science and the government, the “why”-questions, which is to say the diverse and sometimes disputed ways in which a given kind of research is linked to underlying social values and benefits, have not received their fair share of attention. We conclude by suggesting that our observations lend support to recent efforts to introduce deliberative governance into science policy, provided that the resulting procedures make room for discussing the relevant “why”-questions.


Science Policy Democratic Process Social Epistemology Free Inquiry Scientific Freedom 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  2. 2.Section for Science and Technology Studies, Department of SociologyUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

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