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Philosophy of science: Science and Values

PHIL 560

Seminar meetings: Thursdays 3:30-5:20
Savery Hall 408

Instructor: Professor Alison Wylie
Office hours: Tuesays 2:00-3:30
SAV M396 / 543-5873 /

Course description

The focus of this seminar is the vexed debate about “science and values”: whether a well motivated and clearly delineated distinction can be maintained between epistemic (cognitive, constitutive) norms and non-epistemic (social or contextual) values and interests, and whether this distinction can bear the weight of accounts of objectivity and related epistemic ideals that are widely assumed to define the scientific enterprise.

We begin with canonical accounts of this distinction and of the role of “human values” in science: Hempel, McMullin, and advocates of a distinction between the contexts of discovery and of verification, in its various forms. We then consider the debate generated by internal challenges such as Rudner’s argument from inductive risk, and by contextualist critics who take arguments from underdetermination, holism, or theory ladenness as their point of departure and insist that social interests and values are ineliminable from science (e.g., Longino, Douglas, Lacey).

Although some see corrosive relativism and constructivism as the inescapable conclusion of such arguments, in the final segment of the seminar we consider a growing recent literature in which contextual values are recognized to play a constructive, not just a compromising role in scientific inquiry, and ideals of objectivity and epistemic credibility are reframed accordingly. Readings will be drawn from recent work on deliberative process and norms of cognency in science, epistemic and methodological pluralism, and standpoint theory.

The following texts are available in the bookstore. All other assigned readings are available electronically, through the University of Washington on Electronic Course Reserves.

Participants in the seminar will be expected to post weekly reading responses online, to participate actively in seminar discussion and to make at least one seminar presentation in the course of the quarter. The writing requirement is a final term paper that will take the form of a case-based analysis of the epistemic implications of role of values in science.

Recommended preparation
This seminar will presume a general background in philosophy and some familiarity with the central issues in analytic philosophy of science. Familiarity with historical and social/cultural studies of science, and/or some grounding in a science will be an advantage. Advanced undergraduates with background in philosophy and/or a science are most welcome.

For a full course description, an outline of weekly readings, and details of the requirements: