Friday, February 4, 2011

More on the Constitutive-Contextual-Invariant Distinction

I just hunted down the exact Longino quote that baptizes the distinction between contextual and constitutive values, and wanted to compare it to yesterday's musings:

I will call the values generated from an understanding of the goals of science constitutive values to indicate that they are the source of the rules determining what constitutes acceptable scientific practice or scientific method. The personal, social, and cultural values, those group or individual preferences about what ought to be, I will call contextual values to indicate that they belong to the social and cultural environmental in which science is done.
Science as Social Knowledge, p. 4.
This is Longino’s clearest account of the distinction. Let’s try to unpack it. First, there is an assumption that constitutive values are “the source of rules.” Moreover, they appear to be the source of rules that tell us what to do, as "practices and methods" are naturally seen as actions. However, constitutive values are not the same as goals, as the latter “generate” the former. Goals naturally function in rules as follows:
            If one wants to achieve goal G, then one ought to do A.
But where are the values in this? Either G is valuable, or A is (instrumentally) valuable because it is a means to achieving G. That suggests the following:
(L1) A value is constitutive of science if and only if it is either a goal of science or it is a necessary means of achieving a goal of science.
I’ve added that the means must be necessary, because otherwise, a means works in some contexts but not others, which prima facie, sounds like a contextual value. Note that this gets us something very close to yesterday’s gloss. Now let’s tease out Longino’s definition of contextual values:
(L2) A value is contextual in science if and only if some but not all practitioners of a science take it to be valuable.
This is not quite the same as yesterday’s account of contextual values, as that made no reference to whether practitioners take something to be valuable or not. This yields an odd consequence: if some scientist does not take a constitutive value to be valuable, then it is contextual. But this doesn’t leave any room for the scientist to be just plain wrong in his evaluations. For instance, logical consistency is presumably a non-negotiable value, so a contradiction-loving scientist seems to be doing something more suspect than expressing an “individual preference,” as Longino puts it.
            Yesterday’s constitutive-contextual distinction blocks this, since it requires the value to be useful for doing good science some of the times. Something can be useful even if nobody takes it as such and somebody can value something that is useless, so scientists’ attitudes don’t determine contextual values. As a result, I’m sticking with that distinction, since it seems tidier. Moreover, I’m holding fast to distinguishing invariant and constitutive values.

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