Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Science and the Human Good: How to Think Philosophically About the Place of Values in Science

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 21, a group of eager undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members gathered in the auditorium of McKenna Hall hoping for an engaging lecture. Professor Don Howard, Director of the Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame, did not disappoint. Professor Howard delivered the spring 2009 installment of the Arthur J. Schmitt Lecture Series in the form of a presentation entitled “Science and the Human Good: How to Think Philosophically About the Place of Values in Science.”

In his lecture, Professor Howard described the many ways in which values affect the way that science is practiced. He argued that, “Science, like any human practice, lives in a historical, cultural, social, political, and economic context,” and that these factors affect the structure of scientific institutions, as well as the psychology of individual scientists. Professor Howard then argued that, given these facts, values play an indispensable role in the way that science is practiced, and that values are essential in determining how research funds should be allocated and in shaping research methods.

Professor Howard supported his claims with a number of examples from the history of science. He used examples from the lives and work of such scientists as Pierre Duhem, Galileo, and Albert Einstein. This fascinating lecture was followed by a reception. Afterwords thirty invited guests, including many graduate students who are Schmitt Fellows in the Schools of Science and Engineering, joined Dr. Howard and Center Director David Solomon at the Morris Inn for a dinner in honor of Dr. Howard. The evening was filled with more spirited discussion of Dr. Howard’s ideas. The food was delicious, the company friendly, and the conversation lively.

The charge of the Schmitt Lecture Series is a broad but essential one: to reflect on the ethical, political, and religious dimensions of science and technology. The Schmitt Fellows are the principal recipients of the generosity of the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation to the University of Notre Dame. It was for the sake of honoring that generosity that the Schmitt Lecture Series was founded. We would like to thank Professor Howard for his lecture, and we would like to thank the Arthur J. Schmitt Foundation for their generous and continuing support of this lecture series.

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