Values in Science: From Objectivity to Moral Imagination


Matthew Brown


The values in science debate has shifted ground, from arguments for and against the ideal of value-free science, to detailed arguments about normative guidance for value-laden science. In this new phase, we seek to provide accounts of objectivity, scientific integrity, or the norms of responsible science. The guidance is mainly oriented towards compliance and retrospective evaluation. We say: “Be objective; be responsible; don’t be negligent.” We want to know: Did they act with scientific integrity? Was it wishful thinking? Who is responsible for the results?” While there is still an important place for such work, just as there is a place for refining arguments for and against the value-free ideal, I want to suggest a second shift: from compliance-oriented discussions of objectivity, integrity, and responsibility, towards an approach centered on the moral imagination. Rather than focus (merely) on present obligations and retrospective evaluations, ethical frameworks that center the moral imagination emphasize prospective anticipation of consequences and opportunities as key elements of ethical decision-making. The turn to moral imagination, and the emphasis on the positive benefits of value-laden science, is precisely what the current discussion needs.