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The social responsibility of science | Science and Mathematics

Fabio Wanderley Race

Invited to participate in a symposium on the social responsibility of science, I bring up the topic on this blog, naturally from a political science perspective.

In the current situation in the country, we are facing the health challenge of the epidemic mixed with the peculiarity of the unscientific position of the President of the Republic, who is certainly responsible for the worst aspects of the crisis. There is a feeling that the relevant part of the political responses to be obtained in the dynamics of the situation itself refers to measures aimed at removing Bolsonaro, some of which are already in progress, but involved in a process fraught with doubts.

But it is worth asking what the “social responsibility of science” means. Science commitment is Produce of knowledge. Social agents of any kind, especially political agents, can try to benefit from the knowledge produced—and they can do so well or badly, such as manufacturing vaccines or atomic bombs. Of course, scientists can also be socially and politically inspiring and ultimately act accordingly. In any case, the question of who is to blame for the social or political misuse of science does not directly translate into responsibility about science.

Two questions can help in a clearer understanding of the fundamental question at hand: the social character of science itself and the complexity which the issue acquires if we follow its developments from a socio-political perspective.

If we take the epistemological perspective of Karl Popper (which we talked about here in an article some time ago, with special reference to The open society and its enemies), we have a rationality described as “crucial” to admit that it cannot be grounded in itself, which, as a consequence, leads to concessions to irrationality: to hold to a rational position requires an act of faith, “belief in science.” But such a formulation contains a clear contradiction on Popper’s part. Because he is the same one who emphasizes, in the same book, the translation of objectivity in terms of grunting, is seen as the rule of peer control over the outcome of the work done by each scientist. In Jean Piaget’s work on genetic epistemology we find a perhaps more radical and clearly relevant viewpoint, whereby reasoning itself is described as an “ethic of thought”, which includes, besides the practical manipulation of things, a variety of viewpoints and exchanges with others.

The social characteristic that appears there, and is included in the reference to norms, applies to the scientific field in general. But we find a more complex field in the social sciences.

Thus, if we take economic science, we see that it is guided, in its neoclassical inspiration, by the assumption of the pursuit of self-interest by economic agents—which does not preclude the activity of discipline specialists from engaging a wife’s obligation. As for political sociology or political science (despite the increasing influence that economics is now exerting, with the “rational choice” approach), there is no escape from the particular importance which the normative or evaluative component acquires there. Not only is this from the genesis of specialists, who need as a reference the idea of ​​democracy versus dictatorship or oppression: there is also the fact that collective life leads to an adherence to values ​​and norms by individuals and the group itself. And if the reference is democracy, then we will face a problem of coexistence between two basic values ​​(coexisting in a tense manner) and criteria with different characteristics: on the one hand, the value of Autonomy in pursuit of personal or special interests or goals, which, in the end, may indicate an example of life; On the other hand, the value of symbiosis In ensuring the public interest, the more necessary, the confrontation between private interests tends to take the form of conflict between individuals or partial groups.

It happens that “autonomy”, as is evident in the etymology of the expression, implies the existence and operation of the rules that are the choice and responsibility of the agent. Discussions about the process of moral development in authors such as Lawrence Kohlberg and Jürgen Habermas, who are inspired by Piaget’s work, place the stage of “post-traditional” morality as the highest point, in which autonomy is ensured by the capacity for self-reflection on the part of the individual agent, the “deconcentration” (to use the expression Piaget) in relation to the congregation; This contrasts both with the uncritical inclusion in the traditional morals of a group or society, which may occur in an intermediate stage of the process, and with the selfish and hedonistic character of morals operating in the stage described as ‘pre-conventional’.

And something important, albeit paradoxical in appearance, emerges here: the fact that, if it is meant that appropriate criteria, favorable to aims which include those of solidarity and cohesion, are incorporated into Institutions To enable the functioning of civics as a stable culture (“civic culture”), it is necessary to be able to rely on the process by which this culture begins to exhibit traits similar to those of morality. Normal – In this case the rules will be absorbed in a non-reflective manner and without questioning by agents. From this angle, rather than being the subject of an intentional deliberation process, standards instead appear as factors to act causally In conditioning actions, as pointed out by the rational choice approach, they tend to highlight the role of intentionality and rationality in behavior, rather than normative causation. It should be noted that Piaget himself, paying attention to the nuances of the general problem, draws attention to the fact that social norms can also appear as a phenomenon characterized by a random or probabilistic aspect, and appear as a blind consequence, at the macro level, the game of multiple interactions between social agents (referred to as sometimes referred to as “adverse effects”).

What results from the big picture is a complex example of Citizenship Able to accommodate the game between its dimensions civil (Independence or assertiveness, recognition of rights Citizen) and after civil (acting in solidarity, recognizing duties and citizen responsibilities). Historically, “citizenship” has been the grand designation of equality, since classical antiquity, in experiences such as Athens and Rome, and then in the “modern nation-state” facing each other in different ways, as an important piece of literature from years ago pointed out on the subject of “citizenship.” political development”, with themes of identity, equality, and power—the last two refer specifically to the crucial question of how state power over the group is exercised in an equal manner. If we can expect that, with democracy, we are all independent, it is necessary to pay attention to the fact that inequality opposing To this desire – the greater the inequality, the less the possibility of autonomy for all, the sharper the tendency of some to dominate others. The decades that have passed since the middle of the last century very much show the vicissitudes we are exposed to, with the positive experience of European social democracy in the implementation of rights. social, along with civil and political rights, followed by the general growth of inequality in neoliberal dynamics, with a forced reformulation of the state – transforming, as described by Wolfgang Streck, from the state taxing the rich to making social policy in the state forced to play a game Money and power for capitalism that is no longer democratic.

It seems appropriate to refer to the resultant in terms of demand as socially responsible science – at least social science: we need more and more critical social science.

Fabio Wanderlei Reis is a political scientist and Professor Emeritus at UFMG

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