For students to acquire the ability to
Outline the main positions in the philosophy of science concerning the (un)certainty of knowledge, scientific progress, and normativity in science;
Outline the main positions in the philosophy of science regarding the political dimension of scientific activity;
Reconstruct and compare the (aforementioned) main positions in the philosophy of science;
Reflect critically on the aforementioned issues in the philosophy of science, as well as develop and defend a reasoned perspective of their own;
- Assess the relevance of political science for the aforementioned issues in the philosophy of science.
|This course starts with a puzzle. Normally, scientists make all kinds of authoritative claims (with respect to the research area in which they are so-called “experts”). Furthermore (or, alternatively, in the unlikely case they do not actually make such claims), scientists are frequently regarded by non-scientists, most notably the “ordinary” citizens of societies, as having authority; scientists are said to be “the voice of reason,” the ones with “intellectual integrity,” capable of acquiring “real” or “true” knowledge. However, and here is the puzzle, what justifies scientists’ claims to authority, or the belief of the public at large that scientists have such authority? Or, to put it more boldly, what justifies the fact that governments invest staggering amounts of money (public money indeed!) in all kinds of scientific research programmes? If there is to be any justification for this, then it seems at the very least that science does in fact have the authoritative position that it claims for itself or that is usually taken for granted by the larger public. But is it possible to provide such a justification? In the first part of this course, the aim is to assess critically various answers that have been proposed by philosophers of science to this question (or puzzle). Here, three questions are tied together: (1) How, if at all, can we distinguish scientific knowledge from other types of knowledge? (i.e. What is the nature of scientific knowledge?); (2) How, if at all, can we distinguish between good and better scientific knowledge?; and (3) How, if at all, can we produce better scientific knowledge? (i.e. does it make sense to talk of scientific progress? And if so, in what sense?)|
The questions concerning the justification of the authoritative status of science, however, constitute only one part of the puzzle. The other part concerns the political dimension of scientific activity. Suppose we have good reason to believe that the scientific method (whatever it may be) is capable of generating (and increasing) knowledge (of some appropriate kind). This raises the important question regarding the practical implications of scientific research for political reality. What is, and ought to be, the relationship between science and the political organisation of society? In the second part of this course, we shall investigate a number of influential answers to this question that have been given by a variety of sociologists, political scientists and philosophers.