How should values influence science?

Hugh Lacey


Scientists make judgments of value all the time. They usually evaluate their theories according to “cognitive values” (empirical adequacy, power to make predictions, explanatory power etc). But a theory can also be evaluated according to non-cognitive values (social, political, economical, etc). Traditionally, cognitive and non-cognitive kinds of values are maintained separated from one another in order to protect science’s “autonomy”, impartiality”, and “neutrality”. However, social and moral values, as well as other kinds of non-cognitive values, play their role in science, not only by addressing the ethical issues of scientific research, but also by establishing the strategies according to which the problems to be investigated are chosen, and practical applications are sought. Therefore, science is not “neutral”, nor properly “autonomous” - it is permeated by those non-cognitive values. But scientific research can and should be said “impartial” in relation to the cognitive evaluation of its results, in order to make the progress of the research possible, and to allow a diversity of values to make room for a variety of competing strategies.

Key words: cognitive values, non-cognitive values, scientific research, strategies, impartiality.

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