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.