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Lecture: "Theoretical Pluralism and the Science of Human Behavior"

Science and Technology Studies

Speaker: Helen Longino, Stanford University

Date: March 5, 2007

Helen Longino is Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University. Her areas of specialty include the philosophy of science, social epistemology, and feminist philosophy. Originally a student of literature, Longino pursued graduate study in logic and the philosophy of language. In her current research, Longino focuses on, as she puts it, “the relations of social and cognitive values in the sciences, the epistemological challenges of scientific pluralism, the philosophical character of feminist epistemologies, and the development of a social approach to scientific knowledge.”

Recent publications: A few major recent publications include The Fate of Knowledge (Princeton UP, 2001); Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry (Princeton UP, 1990); “Toward an Epistemology for Biological Pluralism,” in Biology and Epistemology, eds. J. Richard Creath and Jane Maienschein (Cambridge UP, 1999); “Explanation v.
Interpretation in the Critique of Science,” in Science in Context (1997); and “Feminist Epistemology as a Local Epistemology,” in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplement (1997). In 2006, she co-edited a volume titled Feminism and Science (Oxford UP) with Evelyn Fox-Keller.

Abstract: The social account of scientific knowledge holds that critical interaction is crucial to the epistemic acceptability of scientific content. In her talk, Professor Longino will discuss four different approaches to the scientific study of human behavior: behavior genetics, developmental systems theory, neurophysiology and anatomy, and a social- environmental approach. Using as case studies, research on aggression and sexual orientation, she will examine the theoretical and polemical writing of advocates of each approach and argue that, despite professed commitment to interactionist explanations of behavior, each tends to believe that only their approach successfully articulates the nature of the interaction and hence produces genuine knowledge. The analysis will provide the basis for an identification of different assumptions and standards employed by the different approaches and for an argument that neither integration nor unification of the approaches is viable and that a pluralist view of this research has significant advantages.