—Image courtesy BrainyQuote…Burroughs attribution unverified
I’m at the annual Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Meeting this week in Washington, DC. Environmental studies and sciences (ESS) is a broadly multidisciplinary field: look no further than the two plenaries from last night and this morning, with one broadly considering applications of environmental science to policy, and the other bringing a diverse range of voices into the conference’s theme of inclusion and legitimacy. These two plenaries evidence how ESS spans facts and values, description and prescription, is and ought.
A question arises: how teach facts and values? We have a pretty good picture of how to teach science (by no means the simple accumulation of facts), and how to help students reflect on values (via e.g. philosophy and the interpretive social sciences), but when you bring them both into the curriculum there can be some problematic assumptions. Here are a few:
- Facts are totally different things than values (usually paralleling the object/subject binary, which is rarely challenged)
- Facts provide rock-solid grounding to justify values (there’s a whole philosophical literature debating, and largely rejecting, this)
- The predominant values found in the ESS community are, effectively, facts (an outcome of the process, found among any group, of social norms)
I don’t propose a quick reconceptualization or solution here, but I’d like to help the ESS community think through this exciting, yet clearly challenging, scope. My work is a bit of a sideshow in ESS, but the aim would be much like that stated by Roy Bhaskar (1975, xxxi), who advocated a philosophy not of but for science:
In this sense my objective could be said to be a ‘philosophy for science’. For I willingly confess to Lockean motives. That is to say, I believe it to be an essential (though not the only) part of the business of philosophy to act as the under-labourer, and occasionally as the mid-wife, of science.
Going deep with how to effectively mix facts and values in the ESS curriculum could sound like critique—a philosophy of ESS—but my intent is to help ESS practitioners get on better with their fact-value business—a philosophy for ESS.
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