Epistemic values and their phenomenological critique

In Ilpo Hirvonen, Sara Heinämaa & Mirja H. Hartimo (eds.), Contemporary Phenomenologies of Normativity. pp. 234-251 (2022)
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Husserl holds that the theoretical sciences should be value-free, i.e., free from the values of extra-scientific practices and guided only by epistemic values such as coherence and truth. This view does not imply that to Husserl the sciences would be immune to all criticism of interests, goals, and values. On the contrary, the paper argues that Husserlian phenomenology necessarily embodies reflection on the epistemic values guiding the sciences. The argument clarifies Husserl’s position by comparing it with the pluralistic position developed in feminist epistemology, according to which sciences may be guided by several competing sets of epistemic values. Further, the existence of alternative epistemic values suggests that choices among such values are social and historically conditioned. Indeed, this is how Husserl’s mature discussion in The Crisis can be understood: his examination of Galileo’s contribution in physics operates as a criticism of the unquestioned dominance of certain set of inherited epistemic values, including the values of accuracy and universal applicability. Indeed, his The Origin of Geometry endorses another set of epistemic values, most importantly that of ontological heterogeneity. Husserl’s analysis demonstrates that the choice of any set of epistemic values is influenced by historical and social factors. Moreover, Husserl argues that we can only avoid biases due to “spells of the time” by continued reflection – Besinnung, in his terms – on the role of values in science.

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Mirja Helena Hartimo
University of Helsinki


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