Helen Longino: The Social Value of Philosophy of Science

Foregrounding the Background

Philosophy of science is an interpretive and critical study of science. content and practice differ but are entangled. Both aspects raise numerous questions. Practice: relevant questions, methods, standards of evidence, etc.

Philosophers have different audiences. If audience is philosophers, generally some philosophical discussion at high level of abstraction.

If scientists, some issue that is currently relevant in some field of science.

If well-informed public, some issue that is in news; e.g., creationism. This presupposes there is one correct side or one incorrect side and it’s our job to identify them.

Another approach is to use these debates as opportunity to teach about science in general.

An example: underdetermination of theory by evidence. Quine points out that no observation refutes a theory, but a whole group of theories. So differing theories could be empirically identical. This can be framed in many variant ways. But often overstated. All of these skeptical objections are directed at theory. But it’s also possible to mount them against particular practices. E.g., what auxiliaries are operating in any inquiry? This involves social relations, as revealed by research beyond published science.

Give a behavioral trait T in a population P, what sorts of factors affect its variability:genes, intrauterine environment, environment, socio-economics, etc. Different researchers will study different correlations with variability in T.

But genetic studies cannot measure the contribution of social factors and vice versa.

(Oh man. This should be blindingly obvious. Why does Longino think this is news and why such a complex example?

Nonetheless, the public needs to be told that scientists should study all relevant variables.

Longino claims that only genetic explanations get any media attention. She is apparently unaware of he attention paid to racism- based, sexism-based, economic, or religious explanations.


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