II:Democracy and Citizen Participation in Science

Which Science, Which Democracy, and Which Freedom?

Hans Radder



The three terms in the title of this volume refer to complex and contested notions. An adequate discussion of how science, freedom, and democracy are, or should be, related requires a substantive explanation of these notions. Therefore, the three main sections of this chapter - on science, democracy, and freedom - first describe these notions in general terms and discuss several of their relevant features. After these explanatory discussions, each section focuses on more specific aspects and provides examples of actual or desirable connections between science, democracy, and freedom.

Concerning science, I argue for the societal relevance and public interest of basic research, the specificity of the human sciences, and the significance of education for citizenship. The central elements of democracy are taken to be voting, deliberation, the legally supported separation of the executive, legislative, and judiciary power of the state, and an appropriate and inclusive suffrage. The relation between science and democracy is addressed with the help of a brief discussion of the democratic substance of the conception and implementation of the Dutch National Research Agenda. Finally, the notion of freedom in individualistic political theories is held to be inadequate. Instead, a more convincing account of freedom proves to be included in the proposed account of democracy. Therefore, I have made a small but meaningful change in the order of the three basic notions: “democracy” precedes “freedom”. From this perspective, I discuss the social, legal, and practical meaning and implications of academic freedom. A crucial point is that this freedom should include the freedom to pursue basic science. For economic and political reasons, basic science is currently under strong pressure, and thus its public interest deserves to be explicitly defended.

In sum, the chapter starts from a general account of the notions of science, democracy, and freedom, and then discusses and illustrates several implications of this account for the relationship between science, on the one hand, and democracy and freedom, on the other. Given the complexity of these notions and the limited space available, it will be obvious that this account has to be presented in a summary fashion. Although some of the specific points are developed in some detail, the other points draw on and summarize a substantial body of literature, both by myself and by many other authors.

Which Science?

The notion of science used in this chapter is the broad European notion. It qualifies as scientific all disciplines practiced in universities and other academic institutes, a classification that is widely employed in many countries and languages. Thus, there is a diversity of sciences, including formal, physical, biomedical, engineering, cognitive, social, and human sciences. As to the latter, I prefer the term “human sciences” over “humanities”. The human sciences address the nature, the histories and societies, and the possible futures of humans. In particular, they see (or should see) human beings as natural creatures who interpret and understand themselves and their environment in ways that do not apply to non-human entities. Classifying the human sciences as scientific acknowledges them as fully legitimate members of the family of the sciences. As is the case in all families, the members of the scientific family are both similar and distinct.

The aims of science cannot be limited to the generation of knowledge (let alone theoretical knowledge), as is done in the still frequently taken-for-granted science-as-knowledge views. Real sciences include a variety of practices whose primary aim is not the acquisition of knowledge but, for instance, the experimental creation of stable phenomena, the construction of feasible computational methods, or the design and building of instruments or other devices needed for doing empirical research. Of course, these practices make use of knowledge, but generating (theoretical) knowledge is not their primary aim.

Related to this is the fact that science and technology are often interconnected, both conceptually and empirically. Acknowledging this fact is crucial for an adequate understanding of both science and technology. The point is especially relevant for philosophical approaches (like the ones in this book) that aim to contribute to democratic debates on the appropriate role of science in society. After all, the public experiences the impact of science to a large extent, or even primarily, through its contributions to technology. Acknowledging that science and technology are often intimately related does not imply that they are identical or basically similar, as is claimed by those authors who advocate a strong notion of technoscience. For this reason, it makes full sense to distinguish between basic and application-oriented science. In contrast to many authors, I define basic science in terms of generality and unpredictability, and not in terms of autonomy, neutrality, or curiosity (Radder 2019, 218-224). In the last section I discuss this subject in more detail.

Many recent studies have focused on the role of values in science. That values play an important role has been widely accepted. Debate has

Which Science, Which Democracy, Which Freedom? 115 continued on the nature and significance of these values (for instance, by differentiating between epistemic and non-epistemic or between cognitive and social values) and on the question of the justifiability of the uses of such values in various scientific practices (Lacey 1999; Douglas 2009; Elliott 2017). In this chapter, 1 will not address this subject in a systematic fashion. 1 mention it because a discussion of the relation between science, democracy, and freedom will unavoidably include issues concerning the role of values in science.

Finally, the discussion of the relations between science, democracy, and freedom should not be limited to research but also address education. Primarily, this education takes place at institutes of higher education. In addition, a variety of other schools and schooling institutes may contribute to this purpose. Being educated on the important issues of our current societies and acquiring the skills of critical reflection on these issues is crucial for democratic citizenship. That science and technology, which have a significant impact on the ways in which people live, or would like to live, their lives, constitute one such issue should be obvious. Therefore, teaching for citizenship cannot be limited to the traditional humanities (in German: Geisteswissenschafteri), which often fail to acknowledge the important role of science and technology (see, for instance, Nussbaum 2010). This kind of education should include systematic and critical reflection on the relations between science, technology, and society (Radder 2019, 2.32-235).

1 started this section by emphasizing the diversity of the sciences and, in particular, by defending an important distinction between the human sciences and the other academic disciplines. To repeat, the human sciences see (or should see) human beings as natural creatures who interpret and understand themselves and their environment in ways that do not apply to nonhuman entities.1 In the second part of this section, I provide a brief example of the relevance of this point for the subject of science and democracy.

In their research, human scientists not only employ their own interpretations, they will also be confronted with the interpretations of their research subjects. Anthony Giddens (1984, 281-288) explains the significance of this so-called double hermeneutic for interpretative social science and describes it as

the intersection of two frames of meaning as a logically necessary part of social science, the meaningful world as constituted by lay actors and the metalanguages invented by social scientists; there is a constant “slippage” from one to the other involved in the practice of the social sciences.

(Giddens 1984, 374)

This “logical necessity” implies that the voice of the research subjects should be welcomed and seriously taken into account. Taking seriously the interpretations of the research subjects means acknowledging the significance of a type of democratic input into the human sciences.2

1 recently came across an illuminating example of the practical significance of the double hermeneutic (see Smolka 2019, 106-108). Psychologists standardly use the notion of emotion as a momentary state, and distinguish between negative and positive emotions. For instance, being glad is a positive emotion, being sad a negative one. However, in neuroscientific brain-imaging experiments on the possible impact of meditation on the experience of emotions, one group of research subjects, the expert meditators, explicitly included their own interpretation in classifying an emotion as negative or positive. In particular, if they are sad because someone is suffering but feel compassion with this person, they see this emotion as positive. Thus, here is a clear case of diverging concepts of emotion between the research subjects and the neuroscientists. In this case, the concepts of the research subjects need to be taken seriously, and there is no reason to see the scientific concepts as being a priori superior.

The significance of the double hermeneutic is not limited to experiments with self-reporting, like the one above. More generally, there may be differing, or even opposing, epistemic interpretations and normative assessments of what is at stake in experiments and observations or in their theoretical interpretations in the human sciences.3 Therefore, the double hermeneutic is not merely of epistemic significance and certainly not merely a problem of potential bias that should be solved or avoided in order to rescue the objectivity of the human sciences (as many proponents of an exclusively experimental approach to the human sciences think). Although a serious consideration of the double hermeneutic does not give you a developed citizen science, it involves a specific openness of the human sciences to the lifeworld of the people. At stake from a normative perspective is the fundamental question of who is entitled to define the nature of human beings and the significance of their cultures and societies: the scientists, the involved research subjects, or both? My basic point is that neither the scientific nor the day-to-day interpretations should be taken as a priori preferable or correct. Instead, settling particular issues needs to be done on a case-by-case basis, by explicitly considering their epistemic, their social, and their normative dimensions.

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