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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 26, Issue 1/2, Spring/Fall 2020

Sharyn Clough
Pages 5-37

Using Values as Evidence When There’s Evidence for Your Values

I have argued that political values are beliefs informed, more or less well, by the evidence of experience and that, where relevant and well-supported by evidence, the inclusion of political values in scientific theorizing can increase the objectivity of research (e.g., Clough 2003, 2004, 2011). The position I endorse has been called the “values-as-evidence” approach (Goldenberg 2013). In this essay I respond to three kinds of resistance to this approach, using examples of feminist political values. Solomon (2012) questions whether values are beliefs that can be tested, Alcoff (2006) argues that even if our values are beliefs that can be tested, testing them might not be desirable because doing so assigns these important values a contingency that weakens their normative force, and Yap (2016) argues that the approach is too idealistic in its articulation of the role of evidence in our political deliberations. In response, I discuss the ways that values can be tested, I analyze the evidential strength of feminist values in science, and I argue that the evidence-based nature of these values is neither a weakness nor an idealization. Problems with political values affecting science properly concern the dogmatic ways that evaluative beliefs are sometimes held—a problem that arises with dogmatism toward descriptive beliefs as well. I conclude that scientists, as with the rest of us, ought to adopt a pragmatically-inclined appreciation of the fallible, inductive process by which we gather evidence in support of any of our beliefs, whether they are described as evaluative or descriptive.

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