The Influence of Morals on Science
Since the inception of science at human hand, the field has been influenced and molded by humanity. Science is informed by humans and their moral development.
The opposing view is that of science and morality existing as two untwined fields. This argument is supported by the fundamental idea of science contrasting that of human ethics. Science is intended to give an unbiased view at the behaviour of the physical and natural world; this proves to be beneficial as science, as a baseline, alludes to a common basis for development throughout humanity (Agazzi, 4). If this basis was to be skewed towards a certain rational human opinion, humanity would not be basing their development off a neutral observed commonground. Ethics is however based in human judgement and as such, is directly related to humans and partial to their opinions. Because of the polarizing respective natures of science and ethics, the two fields are not intertwined.
From the attribute of the polarizing natures of science and ethics, follows the limits of the job of the scientist. A scientist practicing their trade is to exhibit and utilize their trained knowledge in the field of science. Contrastingly, one who pursues and defines ethics is to exhibit their trained knowledge of moral jurisdiction and definitions. In the pursuing of science, the knowledge of morality is not intended to be applied as it does not pertain to scientific excellence. The point within this difference is that although ethics could be applied to science, it is not in the role of the scientist to apply it (Agazzi, 25). Science is as such, removed from ethics as although it has implications, the field of science does not explicate ethical application. Since scientists are the ones undertaking science, not those who are ethically trained, morals do not affect science.
The application of certain morals towards science could easily result in science’s purpose changing. As is, science seeks to provide facts rather than prescriptions. If ethics were to have influence on science, science would begin providing prescriptions or abiding to it. Currently, science provides factual information rather than giving influence on how things should be. Since there has been no shift towards prescriptions over descriptions, it can be taken that ethics has not been influencing science.
Although it can be argued that ethics have no influence whatsoever on science, the stronger argument is that they in fact do. Morals have particular influence on scientific inquiry through the determining of what scientific methods should actually be pursued. It can not be described as purely unbiased scientific motives that resulted in the human genome being sequenced before any other animal. Even more so, it was not a purely scientific decision for humans sequence the genome of a dog before that of a cat. Since the decision of which genome to sequence first is not entirely scientific (as it must be guided by some moral influence), scientific focus must be guided by a sort of ethics.
Additionally, morals have implication within the worth to humans of scientific actions. The concept of a risk threshold is that there is an apparent scale in which the worth of a scientific action can be assessed through its potential rewards. A risk threshold is inherently morally related as a concept of worth can not be scientifically achieved, only ethically. Ethics are able to influence science as the performing of some scientific actions require the viewing of it’s risk threshold.
Similarly, science is able to be guided through morals through the production of information through varied morals. In this sense, morals have influence through both contributing to the formation of knowledge and additionally in the formation of mistakes. An example of this would be an individual forming incorrect knowledge as a result of their values restricting them from realizing that there information may be incorrect. This type of confirmation bias has been represented through male researchers making inaccurate assumptions of cultures because they were unable assess that their values can be restricting in some ways when compared to the common female scientist (and vice-versa).
Agazzi, Evandro. Science and Ethics: the Axiological Contexts of Science. PIE Lang, 2008.