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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 18, 2002

Truth and Objectivity in Social Ethics

Noel E. Boulting
Pages 45-61

Science as a Paradigm in the Formation of Socio-Ethical Judgments

Whether science can be regarded as value-neutral remains a contestable issue. Much of that debate is confused because it is not made clear exactly what the term science is meant to include. Three conceptions can be delineated: the iconic, the indexical, and the interpretative. The iconic employs a wide usage of the term science to include any process of inquiry. The indexical refers to the way the outcomes of inquiry can be made subject to testing and criticism. The interpretative conception, growing out of the iconic, emphasizes the methodology of science, marking it off from other forms of inquiry. These three conceptions of science—delineated in the writings of Charles Peirce—have haunted debates in the philosophy of science during the twentieth century. But whichever conception is adopted, none of these three can offer a satisfactory account of the way in which socio-ethical judgments come to be formed for their application in everyday life.

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