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Science and Human Values

Science and Human Values

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Science and Human Values

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  1. Science and Human Values

  2. Is science value-free? • The ideal of value-freedom in science (cf. Max Weber). • Scientists’ subjective valuations must not be allowed to influence scientific theory-choice or the way evidence supports or refutes theories. • Entzauberung, disenchantment: there are no ”mysterious” entities in the world as described by science, thus no ”queer” objective values, either (cf. J.L. Mackie). • Scientific realism and moral relativism (or moral skepticism) often go together. • Scientific realism: science investigates a mind- and discourse-independent world; as values are mind- and discourse-dependent human constructions (i.e., something subjective, or at least not fully objective), they cannot be part of the ultimate structure of the scientifically describable and explainable reality.

  3. Science as value-laden • However, science itself is a deeply value-laden human practice. • Pragmatism: science cannot describe the world from a ”God’s-Eye View” but from human points of view. The reality of scientifically postulated entities is ”internal” to such practice-embedded descriptions (cf. Putnam: internal realism). • Any descriptions/schemes we employ when (scientifically) investigating the world presuppose human purposes and thus values. • Thoroughgoing value-neutrality is an impossible ideal. • Science can be value-neutral only in a contextualized sense: in specific scientific contexts, the bracketing of explicit value commitments is important (and is itself a value-laden activity).

  4. Against the fact/value dichotomy • Putnam: although fact and value may be (contextually) distinguished, there is no sharp fact/value dichotomy. Our language-use, including scientific language, cannot be neatly divided into a purely factual (descriptive) component and a purely evaluative (normative, prescriptive) component. • Example (by Putnam): ”The cat is on the mat.” Even this simple statement presupposes an entire system of value commitments, purposes, considerations of relevance, etc. (The same applies to any scientific statement – in some cases more explicitly than in some others.) • The results and interpretations of, say, political historians are obviously more explicitly value-laden than physical theories. • There is, however, no sharp difference between the natural and the human sciences in this regard.

  5. Science and religion • Does the advancement of science refute religious views about the world? • The scientific worldview has no need for religious/theological assumptions. The world can be studied without reference to God, creation, etc. • However, religious views of life need not be simply ”bad science”. They can be (pragmatically) evaluated in terms of their functionality in believers’ lives. • Again, pragmatist philosophy of science (e.g., James’s and Dewey’s, as well as Putnam’s neopragmatism) takes seriously the task of reconciling scientific rationality with the possibility of religious belief. • Giving up evidentialism, the assumption that religious statements need evidence in the way scientific theories do. • Does this lead to relativism? (No simple solutions!)

  6. Example: Rorty’s neopragmatism on science and religion • Rorty’s works prior to mid-1990s: radical secularism, atheism: giving up the idea that human beings are ”answerable” or ”responsible” to any non- or superhuman force or reality (God, Reason, Truth, the World – or anything else). • Ethnocentrism: we have to start from where we are. • Relativism? Truth is what our ”cultural peers” let us say. (Rorty himself denies that he is a relativist.) • Doesn’t ethnocentrism provide a partial justification for religious perspectives/language-games as well? People living within a religious ”ethnos” will just have to start from where they are. • Science is no more intimately in touch with the way the world is ”in itself” than religion: the evidentialist science vs. religion discourse is entirely misguided.

  7. Rorty (cont’d) • Rorty does not maintain, like many other atheists do, that scientific progress has made religious beliefs irrational or poorly warranted (etc.). He just holds that we should drop the religious ”vocabulary”, just as we should drop the ”vocabulary” of scientific realism. Both assume that there is a way the world is independently of us, and that there are contraints for inquiry other than ”conversational” ones. We should, rather, continue the ”conversation of mankind” without dreaming of getting in touch with ultimate reality. • Problem: if Rorty’s ethnocentrism leads to relativism, he lacks the normative resources needed for any genuine critique of religion. He can only suggest replacing an outdated vocabulary by another vocabulary. He cannot tell us that this is what we ought to do. (Cf. Feyerabend, anarchism.)

  8. Rorty (cont’d) • In the 1990s and 2000s, Rorty wrote more seriously about religion, proposing that hope should replace knowledge as the central goal of human pursuits (cf. Rorty 1999, 2000). • Because pragmatists “do not believe that there is a way things really are”, they suggest that the reality vs. appearance distinction ought to be replaced by the distinction “between descriptions of the world and of ourselves which are less useful and those which are more useful” (Rorty 1999, 27). • Here the concept of hope becomes important, because “useful” can only mean “useful to create a better future” (ibid.). Hope for a better future is essential in pragmatism; moreover, it is Rorty’s own meta-level hope that hope would replace the pursuit of knowledge. • Scientific hope (final opinion – cf. Peirce) vs. religious/moral hope?

  9. Rorty (cont’d) • According to Rorty, there is little difference between scientific realism and religious fundamentalism! • ”Scientific realism and religious fundamentalism are products of the same urge. The attempt to convince people that they have a duty to develop what Bernard Williams calls an ’absolute conception of reality’ is, from a Tillichian or Jamesian point of view, of a piece with the attempt to live ’for God only’, and to insist that others do so also. Both scientific realism and religious fundamentalism are private projects which have got out of hand. They are attempts to make one’s own private way of giving meaning to one’s own life – a way which romanticizes one’s relation to something starkly and magnificently nonhuman, something Ultimately True and Real – obligatory for the general public.” (Rorty 1999, 157.)

  10. Rorty (cont’d) • There is, according to Rorty, no need to seek any ”ahistorical, God’s-eye, overview of the relations between all human practices” (Rorty 2003, 39). In particular, it is not up to philosophy (as some kind of super-science or super-practice) to offer such an overview of the relations between scientific and religious practices. (Cf. naturalized philosophy of science.) • Kant was right to argue that religion should not be defended or criticized on the grounds of empirical evidence, but he was wrong to assume that philosophy can adjudicate the debates between these different human practices. • Secularism, for Rorty, is a political, not philosophical position. (Cf. Rorty 2003 on ”anti-clericalism”.)

  11. Rorty (cont’d) • For Rorty, philosophical criticism of religion is a matter of ”cultural politics”, not ontology, metaphysics, or epistemology. It is a matter of what kind of vocabularies should be maintained in our culture (and how to define, through our vocabularies, what is ”our” culture and who ”we” are). • Meta-level issue: whether cultural politics should ”replace ontology” is itself a matter of cultural politics (Rorty 2007, 5). Question-begging? Rorty just refuses to see in the question of God’s existence (or any other supposedly metaphysical question) anything else than a conflict between different cultural-political ways of talking. He does not argue for atheism. • Cultural politics is ”the only game in town” (ibid., 8). Presumably, not just philosophy of religion but philosophy of science as well will be reduced to cultural politics? • Problem: can Rorty non-question-beggingly maintain that we should not or cannot argue for atheism, or that we should reconceptualized philosophy (of science, of religion) as mere cultural politics?

  12. Rorty (cont’d) • James, according to Rorty (2007, 36), should have said: ”… [W]e are free to describe the universe in many different ways. Describing it as the drifting of cosmic atoms is useful for the social project of working together to control our environment and improve man’s estate. But that description leaves us entirely free to say, for example, that the Heavens proclaim the glory of God.” • James should not have talked about the ”literal and objective truth” of religious beliefs. He should have ”rested content with … ’The Will to Believe’”: ”we have a right to believe what we like when we are, so to speak, on our own time. But we abandon this right when we are engaged in, for example, a scientific or a political project.” (Ibid., 37.) Public vs. private? • Rorty prefers Dewey’s A Common Faith (1934) to James’s writings on religion (e.g., The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902), because Dewey ”was much less prone to a sense of guilt than was James” (Rorty 2007, 38). But living with a sense of guilt might be what religion is all about for many people?