Dispatches from Pittsburgh

Greetings from Pittsburgh, PA, somewhere on the border between the neighborhoods of Squirrel Hill and Greenfield. It is nearing the end of my first full day of a roughly 8 month adventure. I’m here for my sabbatical year and on a visiting fellowship at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the most important institutions in the field still in operation. It’s an honor to be invited to be a visiting fellow. I’m planning to go in tomorrow morning to get acquainted with the Center, fill out paperwork, and properly start my visit.

Since arriving in Pittsburgh, I’ve done a significant amount of walking (and I hope to do a lot more). I have gone grocery shopping and to Target. I’ve figured out the transit system, more or less. I’ve cooked two meals in my rental apartment, which is seeming more homey by the hour.

My plan, while I am here, is to write a book on science & values. It is the area I’ve been working in most since I finished my dissertation, and one where I’ve slowly developed my ideas in bits and pieces in my philosophical articles over the last 7 years. I think I’m finally ready to put it all together, and I think it will take a book to do it. The book will also be informed by the work on ethical decision-making in engineering research and design that I’ve been engaged with for the past several years with my collaborators at UT Dallas.

The book is engaged primarily with the current debates about values in science, but it draws on two other influences. One is the pragmatism of John Dewey, particularly his views on the logic of inquiry, the nature of values, and the role of science in society. The other is the philosophy of science in practice, a tradition that includes (in my view) the early Thomas Kuhn, the later Paul Feyerabend, Norwood Russell Hanson, Nancy Cartwright, John Dupré, and Hasok Chang, and also closely connected with the work of, among others, Peter Galison and Bruno Latour.

The tentative title of the book is “Science and the Moral Imagination.” I’m sure I will post again about the content of the book. The basic ideas behind the project are (1) that the scientific quest for knowledge and the ethical quest for a good life and a just society are deeply interrelated pursuits, ultimately inextricable from one another; (2) that scientific inquiry involves a series of interlocking, contingent, and open choices, which can only be resolved intelligently and responsibly through a process of value judgment; and, (3) that “research ethics” or “responsible conduct of research” should be a process not merely of compliance with prior given principles or edicts, but should involve the creative projection of consequences (in the broadest sense), and evaluation of those consequences. It is this latter (clumsily expressed) point that I hope to capture with the phrase “moral imagination.” To put the point differently, I seek to explicate and defend an ideal for science according to which “seekers of knowledge” ought to “use their creativity to make the world a better place in which to live.”

What I’m reading this week: John Dewey & Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics by Steven Fesmire and Science, Values, and Democracy (Descartes Lecture Draft) by Heather Douglas.
What I’m writing: My commentary on Heather’s Lecture #1 on “Science and Values,” and my presentation for the Descartes Lectures Conference. (Why did I say I would do both??)
Other stuff I’m working on: Learning my way around Pittsburgh; establishing a routine; improving my diet and exercise; getting into the habit of blogging more.
What I’m doing for fun: Walking; reading The Waste Lands by Stephen King; meeting new people.

Three Direct Roles for Values in Science: A Sketch of a Sketch

Heather Douglas (2000, 2009) has argued that inductive risk requires that scientists make value judgments in the “internal” processes of scientific reasoning, e.g., data characterization and interpretation and judging whether the evidence supports a hypothesis, but that the role for value judgments must be limited to an indirect role. There has been some controversy about just what the direct/indirect roles distinction amounts to (Elliott, Steele), but the basic idea is easy enough to understand: something plays a direct role in a decision if it acts as a reason for deciding one way or the other; it plays an indirect role if it instead helps determines second-order questions about the uptake of reasons, e.g., about what counts as a reason or about determining the necessary weight of reasons before deciding.
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