Science, Ethics & Silence

Nov 10, 2011 by Troy Doucet

It should be quite obvious to most properly functioning, and somewhat sophisticated human beings (whatever that means) that we agree on our most basic values and/or moral ideas.  It becomes very easy to speak within value-laden and ethical cliches: we can all agree that exploitation of children is wrong, kicking puppy dogs is heinous, and the needless promotion of perpetual suffering is intolerable.  Yet, the question is open for discussion as far as the ‘telling’ of our values to the world.  Do I really need to communicate my values and/or ethical position(s)?  Or, should I simply live according to those things I value most- whether or not you agree with them?  This is the nature of subjectivity.  The problem is that I believe we are mixing two different philosophical disciplines when we speak of a ‘value-free’ or ‘value-laden’ ideal in scieince.  Our values stem from an ontological framework- that is – a framework of being and experience.  Values ultimately determine behavior- which is subjective and always will be (i.e. a person may believe in resting on Sunday while someone may believe in working 7 days a week).  These ontological values come from an amalgam of influences on an individual’s life (i.e. culture, media, religious upbringing, etc.) ’Science’ on the other hand deals in epistemological ‘values’- that is- gaining knowledge towards a degree of certainty (but never fully certain).  In as much as my ontological values may determine what science I involve myself in (biological, social, etc.), those values have no influence on the information (or epistemic knowledge) that comes from those respective experiements I conduct in my discipline.  In other words, a biologist may ontologically be a theist- but there are no experiments he can perform, or manipulate, or falsify (without it being epistemically found out by his peers) to verify objectively his value.  Does that negate his ontological belief?  No at all.  Although, it may bring about very serious questions about his future as a scientist should such shady attempts take place.  But that is another issue.  The point is that there are probably many things he believes based upon his ontological values of being that cannot be tested in his lab.  For instance, he may insist that he loves his wife, or significant other- but however much he loves s/he there is no scientific ’value’ to be gained, observed, or peer-review journal worthy (perhaps maybe in some social sciences); that is to say- it is biologically uninteresting, epistemologically.  Our readings, in my estimation, have clearly shown that values are and have always been inherent in the sciences- great!  Now, that this issue is settled and understood, that we all have values, let us move on and let the ‘epistemological natural order’ of the scientific method, and the accountibility of peer-review weed out the pseudo-science by zealous religious idealists, greedy capitalists, and other up and coming opportunistic people who wish to manipulate the ever-improving epistemic value science gives us for their own ontological ethic.