Different motivations, similar proposals: objectivity in scientific community and democratic science policy

Synthese 194 (12):4657-4669 (2017)
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The aim of the paper is to discuss some possible connections between philosophical proposals about the social organisation of science and developments towards a greater democratisation of science policy. I suggest that there are important similarities between one approach to objectivity in philosophy of science—Helen Longino’s account of objectivity as freedom from individual biases achieved through interaction of a variety of perspectives—and some ideas about the epistemic benefits of wider representation of various groups’ perspectives in science policy, as analysed by Mark Brown. Given these similarities, I suggest that they allow one to approach developments in science policy as if one of their aims were epistemic improvement that can be recommended on the basis of the philosophical account; analyses of political developments inspired by these ideas about the benefits of inclusive dialogue can then be used for understanding the possibility to implement a philosophical proposal for improving the objectivity of science in practice. Outlining this suggestion, I also discuss the possibility of important differences between the developments in the two spheres and show how the concern about the possible divergence of politically motivated and epistemically motivated changes may be mitigated. In order to substantiate further the suggestion I make, I discuss one example of a development where politically motivated and epistemically motivated changes converge in practice—the development of professional ethics in American archaeology as analysed by Alison Wylie. I suggest that analysing such specific developments and getting involved with them can be one of the tasks for philosophy of science. In the concluding part of the paper I discuss how this approach to philosophy of science is related to a number of arguments about a more politically relevant philosophy of science.

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Jaana Eigi-Watkin
University of Tartu


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