Democracy and values in science

Datum: 20 - 21 oktober 2022

Political philosophy meets philosophy of science

Philosophers of science have long discussed whether the core activities of science can be free from non-epistemic values (this term is used broadly to include social, political, ethical, and personal values that are not indicators of the truth of scientific claims). There are two broad threads to this discussion: conceptual value-freedom and methodological value-freedom. In the debate about concepts, philosophers contest whether the fact/value distinction can be maintained, and whether key scientific concepts can be rendered free from any value-commitments. In the debate about methodology, philosophers examine core scientific activities such as hypothesis formulation, data gathering and analysis, and inference. The question here is whether it is possible and desirable to do science without (non-epistemic) values.There is an emerging consensus among philosophers of science that non-epistemic values have a permissible role to play in many core aspects of science.

There are several places where this discussion could benefit from engagement with political philosophy. We propose to start with these two:

1.       How can democratic institutions be designed to handle value-laden science?

2.       How can science be organised to handle values in a way that is compatible with democracy?

The first covers the role of experts in a democracy and traditional questions about technocracy. The difference is that we propose to engage with recent work on the impossibility of value-free scientific information to challenge various traditional solutions which attempt to circumscribe and insulate a particular fact-oriented role for expertise.

The second runs in the other direction. It might be true that values are inextricable from science, but not all methods/behaviours are equally good. If democracy works best with something akin to value-freedom, how should scientists select and manage values to best approximate the democratic ideal? The nascent discussion on this question makes clear use of ideas from political theory, or ideas which re-occur in political theory, such as transparency, neutrality, deliberative democracy, and a focus on procedure rather than outcome.


  • Marion Boulicault
  • Heather Douglas (online)
  • Cristian Larroulet Philippi
  • Greg Lusk
  • Alfred Moore
  • Karoliina Pulkinnen
  • Joe Roussos
  • Zina Ward
  • Eric Winsberg (online)

Schedule available here.

Please register using the link belowr to attend this workshop online. If you would like to attend in person, email [email protected] 

Register to participate online here.


The workshop is organised by Joe Roussos in collaboration with Durham University.


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