CfP: Developing a Political Philosophy of Science: issues and prospects (EJPS)

Call for papers. Topical Collection at the European Journal for Philosophy of Science.
Guest Editors: Vincenzo Politi (Autonomous University of Barcelona) and Roger Deulofeu Batllori (Autonomous University of Barcelona)
Opening Submission date: 1rst March 2024
Deadline: 30th September 2024

Title: “Developing a Political Philosophy of Science: issues and prospects”

One of the most debated topics in contemporary philosophy of science is the so-called Value-Free Ideal (VFI), which states that non-epistemic values must play no role in the internal/justificatory phases of scientific research. It does not deny that epistemic values play a
role in the internal phases of research, nor that non-epistemic values may play a role in its external phases (such as in the agenda-setting stage or during the dissemination of results). VFI only forbids non-epistemic values in the epistemic phases of science. Critics of VFI maintain that the internal stages of scientific knowledge production is driven by both epistemic and non-epistemic values (assuming that such a distinction makes sense) and that non-epistemic values do not corrupt the epistemic integrity of science, but they actually improve its objectivity.

Many of these arguments are methodological: they show that scientific reasoning requires values, in order to close the ‘logical gap’ between evidence and theories (Longino 1990, 2002) or to mitigate the risks of error associated with uncertainty (Douglas 2009). Other arguments are ethical. Scientists, like everyone else, have the responsibility not to cause harm to others; therefore, they ought to make value judgements to prevent potentially harmful errors (Douglas 2009).

There are also political arguments about values in science that are defended, among some others, by Kitcher (2001, 2011), Kourany (2010), and Intemann (2015). While accepting the idea that values do play a role in science, these philosophers specify that the values that can legitimately do so are those established by democratic mechanisms that guarantee the representation of the interests of societal stakeholders. In this way, these philosophers challenge the traditional ‘social contract’ between science and society, based on the idea that science ought to remain autonomous from social and political pressures, and provide arguments in favor of a more democratized science. As Schroeder (2022) argues, ethical and political arguments must be carefully distinguished, since they employ different methods and lead to incompatible conclusions. While ethical arguments focus on the rules that an individual ought to follow, political arguments are developed from a more collective perspective. Furthermore, what would be deemed as an unethical behavior for an individual could be permissible, or even desirable, for a nation or a collective organization. 

At the same time, it must be noticed that there are also political arguments supporting VFI. As Bright (2018) discusses, DuBois (1898) maintained that scientists’ sole responsibility towards society is the discovery of (value-free) knowledge. This kind of knowledge is neutral, in the sense that, by itself, it does not privilege any specific value outlooks over others. As such, it is not subordinated to special interests. This means that it can be used by everybody in a democracy, but not misused to push political agendas. Levi (1960) and Betz (2013) also support some variations of the argument of the political legitimacy of VFI. This argument is rarely tackled by the majority of the philosophers discussing values in science and society, with Lusk (2021) being one of the most notable exceptions. Yet the problem remains that political
arguments may be used to both support and reject VFI.

Finally, there is also the problem of which political theory should be used in formulating political arguments about the value-ladenness (or the value-freedom) of science. Many of such arguments seem to presuppose that consensus is the (ideal) outcome of a democratic deliberation, which in turn guarantees fairness and justice. Not everybody agrees on this point though. For instance, Rolin (2021) argues that the consensus achieved through deliberative procedures may actually end up reinforcing injustice and inequality. The minorities' views, in fact, risk not to be taken into consideration if the democratic mechanism in place is designed to award the majority. For these reasons, she challenges some recent views on the 'democratization of science' and she embraces the conception of research areas as 'social movements'. Moreover, Hilligardt (2023) argues that requiring science to use only democratically held values does not consider the importance of partisan and politicized science, which does not reflect the values and interests of a majority and yet it may contribute in important ways to both the epistemic aims of scientific research and to social progress.

This Topical Collection focuses on the emerging political philosophy of science. Topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Can we really take for granted that democratization and public participation would increase value diversity in scientific research? Or that it would improve science? Are democratic decisions necessarily better, or less harmful, than experts’ opinions?
  • Political arguments can be used both to support and to criticize VFI. They may also conflict with ethical and methodological arguments about the legitimate role of non-epistemic values in science. Therefore, can political arguments really arbitrate between different normative philosophical frameworks? Could they be used to formulate some new ones?
  • Which model of democracy best suits the project for a democratized science? Up to which point should a democratized science tolerate dissensus?
  • If, to paraphrase F. D. Roosevelt, democracy cannot survive without education, which kind of science education will allow democratized science to survive?

Please submit your contribution to the European Journal for Philosophy of Science, selecting the TC "Developing a Political Philosophy of Science" from the dropdown menu of the editorial manager. For formatting and length, please refer to the journal's Instructions for Author from the journal webpage: