A Deontological Approach to the Rationality of Science

  • Fred D’Agostino
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 160)


How are we to characterize the rationality of science? It is usual to suggest that science, like many human enterprises, has an aim and that the activities of its practitioners are rational to the extent that they promote the realization of this aim. Scientific methodology, on this account, involves determining how this aim is to be optimally pursued. Whatever distinguishes science from other human activities lies in the peculiar nature of the aim of this activity. For insofar as it is rational, its rationality is just the instrumental rationality that is familiar in other contexts — and consists, in particular, in the adaptation of the means adopted to the aim pursued. This view is very widespread. I reject this view. Following up a hint by John Harsanyi, I aim to develop here an alternative to the instrumental account of the rationality of science which has for so long prevailed unchallenged. Adapting some insights from contemporary political theory, I aim to develop a deontological account of the rationality of science. I begin by considering some possible attitudes to the existence of disagreement — for it is, in my view, in response to the fact of disagreement that the need for a method of science in fact makes itself felt. I consider relativistic, dogmatic, and ‘liberal’ attitudes to disagreement, and I try to show that the liberal attitude is the only rational attitude to adopt in the face of disagreement. I then consider the responses to disagreement which are appropriate for those who have, rationally, adopted a liberal attitude to it.


Good Reason Liberal Attitude Epistemic Significance Coin Land Psychic State 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fred D’Agostino
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of New EnglandUK

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