Science, gender and values symposium


Science, Gender and Values

A symposium on the occasion of the honorary doctorate awarded to Helen Longino by VU University Amsterdam

Monday, October 20, 10-13




10.00 – 10.05: Opening by Michel ter Hark (Professor and Dean, Faculty of Humanities, VU University Amsterdam)

10.05 – 10.50: Helen Longino (Professor of philosophy, Stanford University, USA):

           Partiality, sociality, and pluralism

10.50 – 11.05: Discussion

11.05 – 11.30: Coffee break

11.30 – 12.00: Edwin Koster (Lecturer of philosophy, VU University Amsterdam):

Science and values in education

12.00 – 12.30: Veronica Vasterling (Associate Professor of gender studies and philosophy, Radboud  University Nijmegen):

The science of sex differences: some reflections on methodical individualism and pluralism  in science

12.30 – 13.00: Response by Helen Longino and general discussion


Chair: Hans Radder (Professor emeritus of philosophy of science and technology, VU University Amsterdam). There is no charge, but please register by sending an email to Mirjam de Leeuw (

Room 2D-16 (STOA-zaal), Main Building (Hoofdgebouw) VU, De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam (for directions, see

The official granting of the honorary doctorate will take place on Monday, October 20, during the celebration of the Dies Natalis of VU University, starting at 15.00 in the aula, Main Building.





Helen Longino

Partiality, sociality, and pluralism


My work in the philosophy of science concentrates on analyzing social relations in science and between science and its social, economic, and cultural context.  As a philosopher, I have been primarily concerned to develop accounts of scientific objectivity, rationality, and knowledge that enable the analyst to show how specific cultural or social values may be playing a role in a context of inquiry even though the work in that context satisfies the standards of evidence and reasoning active in that context.  To put it another way, the mere fact that social or cultural values have played a role in the course of a given inquiry does not ipso facto qualify that inquiry as an example of bad science.

In my presentation I will review my arguments to the effect that the relations between observational and experimental data on the one hand and explanatory hypotheses on the other require assumptions to establish the evidential relevance of the data to hypotheses.  Social and cultural values are often entangled in these assumptions.  But that there are such assumptions and what they are must be established by investigation of particular contexts of research.  Objectivity still remains a reasonable idea, but becomes a property of communities rather than of individual researchers.  Communities are objective to the extent that they foster transformative critical interaction.  This can be secured if the community satisfies certain conditions:  that there be public venues for criticism, that there be uptake of criticism, that there be public standards regulating the critical discourse in the community, that the community be characterized by (tempered) equality of intellectual authority.

In my first book this conclusion rested in a version of the underdetermination argument.  In my second book, I went further and argued that the central cognitive practices of science, observation and reasoning, were themselves social practices, thus requiring us to see the entire cognitive dimension of science as social.  But to see it as social is not to see it as vitiated, but as requiring a different kind of analytic frame.

In my talk, I will review the arguments and main conclusions of this social approach to scientific knowledge. I will then detail some of the consequences of the analysis for feminist questions about the sciences (How should we understand efforts to understand gender, sexuality, and other human behaviors biologically? What would it mean to conduct science as a feminist?) and about philosophical accounts of scientific knowledge (provisionalism, partiality, pluralism).



Edwin Koster

Science and values in education


The ideal of a value-free science has dominated our conceptions of science for centuries. According to this ideal science is an activity that discloses the facts and nothing but the facts. Science was supposed to proceed under the exclusive role of logic and empirical research and to explain how things ‘really’ are – independent of the perspectives of (individual) scientists. In the value-free view of science neither matters of values and preferences nor moral and political decisions belong to the domain of science. However, since four decades many philosophers of science – such as Helen Longino – have been publishing about the relation between science and values. Among these philosophers there seems to be a growing consensus that science is not value free. This fact has consequences for science education.

I will argue that the subject of ‘science and values’ is highly relevant for science education: students need to reflect upon the relation between science and values. This relation will be discussed by reference to a bachelor course that I teach in philosophical education in the life sciences. In this course students are stimulated to develop a critical approach to science by way of a systematic presentation of examples of the interaction between scientific research, on the one hand, and different types of values, on the other. In my presentation I will introduce the ‘Dilemma Oriented Learning Model’. This model helps students to reflect upon their ‘own’ values by taking seriously Longino’s claims about scientific pluralism. Because students will become scientists, scientific practitioners or academic professionals, and since values will influence their (future) professional practices, it is important for them to reflect upon the role of these values.



Veronica Vasterling

The science of sex differences:

some reflections on methodical individualism and pluralism in science


For more than a decade, newspapers and magazines report about new findings in the scientific research of sex differences. Two fields of research stand out: evolutionary psychology and brain science. The general public hears a lot about evolutionary adaptations and male and female brains causing different behavioral repertoires for men and women. That the topic of sex differences is popular among the general public is not surprising. More difficult to understand is the fact that the science of sex differences, despite quite devastating scientific critique, seems firmly established in academia as well.

How is that possible? In this talk I will present some observations on the present state of affairs with respect to the science of sex differences, drawing on Helen Longino’s recent book Studying Human Behavior (2013).