Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Values in Science: Rethinking the Dichotomy

In Lynn Hankinson Nelson & Jack Nelson (eds.), Feminism, Science, and the Philosophy of Science. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 39--58 (1996)
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Underdetermination arguments support the conclusion that no amount of empirical data can uniquely determine theory choice. The full content of a theory outreaches those elements of it (the observational elements) that can be shown to be true (or in agreement with actual observations).2 A number of strategies have been developed to minimize the threat such arguments pose to our aspirations to scientific knowledge. I want to focus on one such strategy: the invocation of additional criteria drawn from a pool of cognitive or theoretical values, such as simplicity or generality, to bolster judgements about the worth of models, theories, and hypotheses. What is the status of such criteria? Larry Laudan, in Science and Values, argued that cognitive values could not be treated as self-validating, beyond justification, but are embedded in a three-way reticulational system containing theories, methods, and aims or values, which are involved in mutually supportive relationships (Laudan, 1984). My interest in this paper is not the purportedly self-validating nature of cognitive values, but their cognitive nature. Although Laudan rejects the idea that what he calls cognitive values are exempt from rational criticism and disagreement, he does seem to think that the reticulational system he identifies is independent of non-cognitive considerations. It is this cognitive/non-cognitive distinction that I wish to query in this paper. Let me begin by summarizing those of my own views about inquiry in which this worry about the distinction arises.



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