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Back to 2014_04_11_ICS_La actividad científica exige la adopción de ciertas actitudes que son moralmente relevantes

"Scientific activity requires the adoption of certain attitudes that are morally relevant."

Alejandro G. Vigo, researcher main project 'Natural law and rationality internship', reviews some of the issues analyzed in the seminar interproject 'Moral convictions and scientific arguments'.

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PHOTO: Manuel Castells
11/04/14 12:19 Isabel Solana

The Institute for Culture and Society organized the interproject seminar 'Moral convictions and scientific arguments', which consisted of four sessions: 'Moral convictions, rationality, science', 'The scientific êthos and the moral dimension of the scientific task', 'Scientific objectivity and the world of life' and a last one in which a balance of the previous ones was made.

Alejandro G. Vigo, researcher main project 'Natural law and rationality internship', reviews some issues of interest analyzed during the activities.

Is it possible to do science when one has certain moral convictions? 

In seminar we wanted to reflect on how deep moral convictions are articulated in the same vital project with the basic convictions of moral projection that are at the base of the scientific ethos. In analyzing the integration of these two levels within the same identity, we have seen reasons for and against the various arguments and have tried to point out that it is a two-way street. Scientific activity as such requires us to adopt certain attitudes that are morally relevant: at attention with what claims to be true or not true, in relation to the rules that govern scientific argumentation in a given field, and so on.

During the seminar it has been explained that science is indebted to the world of life but has repercussions in it. What is the relationship between the two?

This problem arises with particular clarity in this epoch because the explosion of the scientific knowledge has led to a multiplication of discourses on reality that, many times, appear as incommensurable among themselves. On the other hand, all of them keep a certain reference letter , closer or more remote, with the basic ground of meaning, which phenomenology calls 'the world of life': the ultimate point of support of the whole constitution of experiential meaning. How scientific objectivity has repercussions on the world of life is an enormously topical topic because a large part of what we suppose today about the world around us is determined by the results of science. However, many times science tends to threaten with its results certain basic presuppositions of our vital installation, in the world of our daily activity. This generates an interesting and very productive tension.

Is dialogue possible between different scientific positions and between researchers who have different moral convictions?

The extremes touch each other. The ideal of an objectivity free of all budget and the ideal of a complete absence of objectivity -in which one can only argue from unreviewable prejudices- often have the same results because they constitute two forms of uncritical consciousness. In both positions, the immediate result is that each one is confined without the possibility of overcoming in his own capsule of prejudices. A truly critical ideal is dialogical; in it, criticism always begins with self-criticism and the possibility of dialogue with the other is part of the critical return to one's own presuppositions. In this dialogic context we have the possibility of generating a zone of meeting with the other, in which we have a mixed experience: there are many things in which we can agree with agreement in spite of disagreeing in many others.

Is the role of the academic observation or intervention?

In the balance seminar , Professor Alejandro N. García has addressed the sociological dimension of scientific activity, which is regulated and institutionally framed. It is a human activity - like so many others - whose social dimension goes in multiple directions. One of them is how we become aware of what we do when we do science. Professor García presented some current schemes of relational analysis of social activity in general and scientific activity in particular that allow us to understand a certain way of combining observation with intervention. This seems to me to be particularly important in the social sciences, but it also has application in the natural sciences.

Should the production of knowledge lead social change?

In my opinion, the short-sighted deadline bets are short-sighted. If one interprets science to lead social change in the following sense, the current concern of scientists should be how to change society. Naturally, one would first have to discuss in which direction such a change is made and what changes would be desirable. But let us assume that we are clear about what changes need to be made and in what direction we want or should change. Then the question would be whether scientists and academics would have to lead that change. And here we can make the mistake in which politics has so often fallen into: confusing what is important with what is immediate, believing that only that which provides immediate results should be funded without taking into account the fundamental epistemological fact that no one can foresee the relevance of results achieved today in 20 years' time. Knowing how the universe originated, for example, has no immediate technological application, but no one can say what will happen in 20 years with what was learned by studying these things. And it goes without saying that it would be very important to know as much as possible about these things, even if we could never obtain an immediate concrete benefit from it: in my opinion, the greatest imaginable progress for human beings is precisely that of knowing more and better about fundamental things.

How does the search for funding, the requirement to publish papers, etc. fit into the work of researcher?

We confuse genuine success with short-termism, with immediate success; genuine generation of a trajectory, with fleeting prestige; genuine bet for the knowledge, with bet for a superficial recognition. True recognition is achieved diachronically along a trajectory with obscure stages, in which nobody knows what one is doing, in which sometimes things do not turn out as expected... Another thing is the demand for immediate results to grant certain benefits, generally monetary. While research at area for medical and experimental sciences is expensive (laboratories, equipment, etc.), the same is not true for Humanities, whose expense main source is payroll. In this sense, there do not seem to be so many constraints here that really justify the short-term pressure.