HPS Colloquium - Kathleen Okruhlik. "Values and Voluntarism"

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Location: 120 DeBartolo Hall

Values and Voluntarism

If belief is (in some sense and to some degree) a matter of the will, what role do so-called non-epistemic values play in belief formation?  In examining this question, I shall focus on a handful of figures, including Otto Neurath, Bas van Fraassen, and Helen Longino.

Neurath has been described by Thomas Uebel as an epistemic voluntarist on account of the role he assigns to auxiliary motives as an external criterion of theory choice.  Here I shall briefly rehearse my reasons for thinking that Uebel (in some respects) misrepresents Neurath’s position, especially with respect to the values question.

Bas van Fraassen’s epistemic voluntarism is quite different from the version ascribed to Neurath and has assumed greater and greater importance in the development of his thought – from its introduction in the important paper 1984 JP article called “Belief and the Will” to its present explicitly Sartrean formulation.  I shall examine the historical antecedents of van Fraassen’s voluntarism, its development since 1984, and (briefly) the relationship of his epistemic voluntarism to his empiricist philosophy of science.   I shall also wave my hands at the existentialist account of values and emotions that seems to inform the epistemic voluntarism.

Finally, there is the question whether some feminist accounts of science should be described as “voluntarist” insofar as they explicitly endorse certain value commitments as determinants of model choice.  Helen Longino doesn’t self-identify as a voluntarist, but her contextual empiricism will be the central example here because of its sophistication and because it shares some of the classically empiricist commitments of Neurath and van Fraassen.