Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Longino on the Theoretical Virtues

So I’ve just read Helen Longino’s work on the theoretical virtues:
Longino, H. E. (1994), "In search of feminist epistemology", Monist 77 (4):472-485.
——— (1995), "Gender, politics, and the theoretical virtues", Synthese 104 (3):383-397.
——— (1997), "Feminist Epistemology as a Local Epistemology", Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 71 (1):19-36.
(For those who are interested, I don’t think you lose much if you just read the 1997 article, as there’s quite a bit of redundancy, and, in my estimate, Longino’s argument gets clearer over time.)

In these articles, Longino argues:
(1)  There are traditional theoretical virtues that work in certain contexts, e.g. empirical adequacy, conservatism (external consistency), simplicity, unification, scope, fruitfulness, and refutability.
(2)  There are also feminist theoretical virtues that work in other contexts, e.g. empirical adequacy, novelty, ontological heterogeneity, complexity/mutuality of interactions, applicability to human needs, and decentralization/universalization of power.
(3)  Neither of these sets of virtues is intrinsically epistemic, i.e. it doesn’t appear that the virtues have a very obvious link with truth.
(4)  Rather, the epistemic significance of these virtues is always relative to the cognitive goals of the communities that use them.
a)     In feminist inquiry, this is the goal of “revealing gender,” e.g. identifying gender biases that have been operant in scientific inquiry.
b)    It’s unclear what cognitive goals Longino takes the traditional virtues to serve, but both feminist critics and advocates of these virtues (e.g. Hugh Lacey) have taken control and manipulation (e.g. as found in experimental settings) to be a plausible candidate.
(5)  Longino then situates these ideas within her four social-epistemological criteria:
a)     Provision of venues for the articulation of criticism;
b)    Uptake (rather than mere toleration) of criticism;
c)     Public standards to which discursive interactions are referenced;
d)    Equality of intellectual authority for all (qualified) members of the community.
(6)  “Within this scheme the traditional and alternative virtues constitute partially overlapping, but distinctive sets of public community standards [i.e. item (5.c)].” (1997, p. 29)

Longino’s argument, particularly premise (3), leaves much to be desired. But I won’t quibble with it in the current project, since that would amount to an external critique, and my goal is to provide an immanent one. I want to suggest that, unlike the feminist virtues, the traditional virtues play a special role in item (5.b), i.e. uptake of criticism. Without playing my hand just yet, the virtues need not be guides to truth, but only guides to warranted acceptance (not belief!) of a theory.

No comments:

Post a Comment