The Ethos of Science: Objectivity, Disintrestedness and the Autonomy of Scientific Research

Course Description: 

This course deals with three important norms that are often mentioned as part of the ethos of science: objectivity, disinterestedness, and the autonomy of scientific research. After studying what these norms are, how they relate to each other and how they structure scientific knowledge production, we will discuss how they relate to the value-free ideal of science, i.e. the ideal that social or political values should play no role in sciences. The aim is to better understand which tensions might arise from the mentioned relations, be this in the natural or social sciences. For instance, is the use of value-laden “thick” concepts such as “aggression” a violation of objectivity, disinterestedness or autonomy? Is the influence of values in so-called inductive risk situations violating any of the three? Should it be forbidden or discouraged (e.g. by public funders) to study whether there are gender differences in cognition because it can harm those studied, or would that violate scientific autonomy? Is private research funding creating systematic biases that violate autonomy, disinterestedness and objectivity that should be prevented? These and further controversial issues will concern us in this course.
After an introduction, Part I will concentrate on classic works on objectivity, the ethos of science and the value-free ideal of science (e.g. by Max Weber and Robert Merton).
Part II will contain discussions of important contemporary contributions to the above-mentioned issues, in particular with respect to objectivity, value-ladenness, thick concepts, autonomy and the ethics of scientific attention (e.g. by Lorraine Daston, Philip Kitcher, Janet Kourany and Theodore Porter, Helen Longino, etc).
Part III will diversify the discussion with a set of case studies that should give rise to the term papers of the students. The choice of readings and the case studies in the second and third part will depend on the interests of the participating students.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will understand the core issues related to the topic of the course. They will practice their reading, analytic and discussion skills.
Students are required to read the mandatory material for each class and to participate in oral discussions. Students might have to prepare short presentations of the core readings, depending on number of students participating. Students will also have to work on a specific case study. See for more details on rules of participation in the Handout attached to this Syllabus.
Even though the core readings in Part I and II are epistemological in orientation, students are encouraged to follow their own interest, disciplinary background, material covered (be it from, anthropology, gender studies, history, literary studies, nationalism studies, philosophy, political sciences, public policy, religious studies, sociology, urban studies, visual studies, etc.)

Assessment: 

Grading will be based on written final paper 2/3 of the grade, in class and case
study work 1/3 of the grade. The case study work can be reused in the final paper.

Prerequisites: 

No preliminary knowledge about the subject is necessary for successful participation.

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