Values in science. The role of cognitive and non-cognitive values in science

S. Ivani

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Silvia Ivani
Values in Science. The role of cognitive and non-cognitive values in Evolutionary Psychology

Should scientists value simple theories? Is fruitfulness an important criterion to assess scientific theories? What role moral, social, and political values should have in the assessment of scientific theories? In recent years, there has been
an increasing interest among philosophers of science in studying how cognitive and non-cognitive values influence and should influence the assessment and comparison of scientific theories. While cognitive values (such as simplicity
and fruitfulness) are features of scientific theories that are indicative of the truth or empirical adequacy of theories, non-cognitive values are moral, political, social, and economic values. Understanding the roles of values in science is
a particularly urgent issue. Clarifying the importance of cognitive values is important in order to be able to make accurate comparisons of scientific theories. Understanding the influence of non-cognitive values on science is crucial because moral, social, and political values are involved in many stages of research, such as decisions on methodologies and allocation of funds. Since these decisions affect all the members of the society (scientists, non-experts, and political institutions), understanding the impact of non-cognitive values on these choices is of primary importance. Although a large body of literature has investigated the roles of cognitive and non-cognitive values in theory appraisal, several questions remain to be analysed. In this dissertation, I address four questions by using two main methods, namely the analysis of case studies from evolutionary psychology and the experimental method. First, while philosophers have clarified the importance and roles in theory appraisal of some cognitive values, little or no attention has been paid to other values. In this dissertation, I have started filling this gap by formulating a clear explication and a simple strategy to be employed in theory appraisal for one of the values that have attracted little attention, namely fruitfulness. I have explicated fruitfulness as the ability of programs to extend their content and suggested considering research questions and discovery heuristics to assess this ability. Moreover, I have used my account to assess the fruitfulness of evolutionary psychology. Second, some philosophers of science argue that cognitive values are desirable and relevant to the assessment of theories because they are indicative of the truth or empirical adequacy of theories. However, why is it so? In my dissertation, I develop a context-sensitive approach to values and I argue that in order to understand the ground for the desirability of cognitive values and make an accurate appraisal of theories, we have to consider specific factors of the context in which theories are assessed, such as the availability of methodologies and the way cognitive values are interrelated to each other in that context. Third, philosophers have traditionally argued that the influence of non-cognitive values on scientific reasoning threatens the epistemic authority of science. I have challenged this view and argued that some non-cognitive values can play a cognitive role in science, i.e., they can be epistemically beneficial to the assessment of scientific theories. On the basis of a case study (the account of human mating in evolutionary psychology), I have argued that feminist values have positively contributed to theory appraisal in various ways, such as by raising sensitivity to evidence that was neglected because of gender bias. Fourth, some philosophers have argued that non-cognitive values play a legitimate role in cases of inductive risk, namely cases in which scientists may wrongly assess scientific hypotheses (e.g. accepting a hypothesis that should be rejected) because of some uncertainty due to mixed results or disagreement on the reliability of methodologies. Mistakes can have consequences that can be morally or economically undesirable and non-cognitive values, some philosophers argue, provide the standards to evaluate and compare these possible consequences. However, little is known on how - specifically - non-cognitive values influence this evaluation. To address this issue, I have conducted an experimental study clarifying how personal features, political values, and specific aspects of a risk (e.g. the chance of incurring Type I vs. Type II errors) determine people’s reasoning about cases of inductive risk. On the basis of these results, I have discussed recent institutional calls for the
need to align research agendas and technological development to citizens’ values, needs, and expectations.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Tilburg University
  • Sprenger, Jan, Promotor
  • Colombo, Matteo, Co-promotor
  • Dutilh Novaes , C., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Sie, Maureen, Member PhD commission
  • de Regt, Herman, Member PhD commission
  • Henderson, L., Member PhD commission, External person
Award date26 May 2020
Place of PublicationS.l.
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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