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Volume 25 • Number 3

July 2011



The Ethics of Inquiry, Scientific Belief, and Public Discourse

by Lawrence Torcello

This paper builds on a developing movement to determine what, if any, ethical constraints ought to be exercised in the process of intellectual inquiry, and what, if any, ethical burdens fall upon professional researchers regarding the public explication of scientific matters. In particular this article will focus on how an ethics of inquiry connects to, and ought to inform, an ethics of public discourse among researchers and laypersons alike, particularly when scientific findings are relevant to public policy. One framing issue, which has been discussed by Philip Kitcher, is whether or not there are paths of scientific investigation so potentially harmful that pursuing them is morally irresponsible. Kitcher advances the view that in the context of particular cultural milieus, certain scientific investigations are not worth the social harms they might engender. Kitcher argues, for example, that racial prejudices are held in place by what he deems “political and epistemological asymmetries.” Political asymmetries are the consequences of ideological prejudices specific to one’s cultural history. For instance, the United States’s long history of institutional racism and its accompanying tensions remain influential despite the official political condemnation of all institutional and public discrimination. Epistemological asymmetries result from the widespread tendency people have to inflate inaccurately the level of evidential support available for their personal beliefs.

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ISSN: 2152-0542