At the Perspectives on Science seminar on Monday 16.11., Çağlar Dede (EIPE, Erasmus Uni.) will give a presentation titled “Reconciling Ernest Nagel’s Impartiality with Anna Alexandrova’s “Mixed Claims”: Defining a Neo-Nagelian Understanding of Social Scientific Objectivity”. The seminar takes place in Zoom from 2 to 4 pm.
Perspectives on Science is a weekly research seminar which brings together experts from science studies and philosophy of science. It is organized by TINT, the Centre for Philosophy of Social Science at the University of Helsinki. More information about the seminar here.
To join the seminar please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about using Zoom can be found here.
Çağlar Dede’s work focuses on the social dimensions of science and scientific reasoning, values and objectivity in science, and science-society relations. His doctoral research (based in EIPE, Erasmus University Rotterdam) has been on the justifiability of behavioral policy interventions from the perspective of philosophy of (policy-relevant) sciences, which he expects to defend in early-2021. He has recently become a member of the ERC-funded project “Social Epistemology of Argumentation” (based in Vrije University Amsterdam). In this project, he will investigate the cases from scientific practice to inform our scientifically informed understanding of how argumentation (between diverse epistemic groups) facilitates epistemic improvement. Çağlar’s most recent article (Integrating Heather Douglas’ Framework with an Account of Scientific Evidence: Why and How?) is forthcoming in the November-December issue of Perspectives on Science.
At least since Max Weber, we could articulate in what sense social scientific claims are different from doxastic opinions, however value-laden the inquiry might be. Generations after generations, philosophers and practicing social and behavioral scientists are puzzled about the nature of objectivity in social scientific inquiry, and the controversies remain up to date. There is nothing new under the sun: the debates about (social) scientific objectivity have gained renewed attention in recent years. A prominent contribution, specialized in policy-relevant social and behavioral sciences, is offered by Alexandrova (2016, 2018). Alexandrova is worried that the existing accounts of social scientific objectivity cannot accommodate the “mixed” nature of social and behavioral sciences; specifically, the mixed nature of the claims asserted by social and behavioral scientists. “Mixedness”, which is a close relative of thickness, refers to the value-ladenness of the definition or the measurement of the concepts that appear in the (causal) claims made by social and behavioral scientists. Alexandrova’s argument is based on a rejection of Ernest Nagel’s treatment of value-laden language in social sciences. She focuses on Nagel’s famous distinction between characterizing and appraising value-judgments that establishes that social scientists’ appraising value judgments are in principle avoidable. Alexandrova argues that plausible ways to operationalize Nagel’s distinction in practice are either impractical or undesirable because the distinction aims to eliminate defensible forms of appraisals from mixed sciences. She defends the mixed claims from Nagel’s treatment of them.
In this talk, I argue that Alexandrova’s disagreement with Nagel’s treatment of the mixed claims is less stark than it may initially look, and the respective accounts of social scientific objectivity have several important conceptual commonalities. To make this point, I introduce a distinction between the authority problem of values and the legitimacy problem of values in scientific judgment, and I employ this distinction to characterize the main point where Alexandrova disagrees with Nagel. It turns out that Alexandrova’s main argument against Nagel’s treatment of mixed claims is about the authority problem of values, which is concerned with the proper source and the authorization of relevant value judgments. I then show that Alexandrova’s account of objectivity for mixed claims is compatible with a Nagelian response to the legitimacy problems of values, which emphasizes the role of impartiality in fulfilling objectivity. Moreover, I draw on the insights from the contemporary philosophers in the feminist tradition in analytical philosophy of science to demonstrate that a Neo-Nagelian understanding of social and behavioral scientific objectivity can also accommodate Alexandrova’s compelling worries regarding the authority problem of values. Specifically, I show that the Neo-Nagelian accounts (such as Heather Douglas’ or Elizabeth Andersons’s) are congruent with social scientists’ ownership of appraising value judgments. Moreover, the Neo-Nagelian conception of impartiality, which presupposes the pluralist conception of objectivity (e.g., Douglas 2004, 2011), can properly address the important practical issues raised by Alexandrova regarding the authority problem of values such as the problems of imposition or lack of democratic procedures. I will refer to the practice of evidence-based behavioral policy evaluation to illustrate the conceptual points made during the talk.