The Value of Science

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The first question one must ask is the most basic, speaking to the fundamental role of science and technology in society. Is approaching the world as an object of technoscientific inquiry always, sometimes, or perhaps even never appropriate? What is the value of engaging in science and technology in the first place?

On the traditional view, the value of science and technology themselves can be defended merely by pointing to the epistemic value of science and the instrumental value of technology. But this view cannot be held uncritically, and is starting to be seen as untenable. We might point also to the aesthetic value of science, its ability to satisfy our curiosity. Going further, ethical questions about the good life and existential questions about our orientation in and toward the world may be essential preconditions of understanding the value of science and technology as such.

Traditionally, we conceive of science as valuable for the truths it discovers about how the world works and for the practical applications it affords. The first is the epistemic or cognitive value of science, while the later is its practical or instrumental value. When the value of science is explicitly considered (if it is at all), these are the go-to responses. (The two are sometimes confused by science-boosters.) We might, though, ask two further questions: (1) what makes these two values valuable themselves, and (2) in what other ways is science valuable. (The flip-side of (2) is the question, in what ways is science harmful or disruptive to our values.)

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