Virtue Ethics & Epistemology

Over the last two decades, scholarship in science & technology studies (STS) has shown that successful research requires more than following a certain set of methods or learning particular skills and technical knowledge. Instead, scientific communities (from lab groups to professional societies) encourage their members to develop specific cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dispositions — that is, members are trained to think, feel, and act in certain ways in order to be successful researchers. I’m interested in using virtue theory to understand and analyze this aspect of scientific research, in part because that helps connect STS literature to promising new scholarship in ethics and epistemology.

Virtue theory forms an important part of my new project on economic expertise and democratic politics. But it is also at the center of a major new collaborative project in which I am involved on “Developing Virtues in the Practice of Science.” A press release about the project can be found here. A brief description is below:

“Developing Virtues in the Practice of Science” marks the first multidisciplinary investigation into the dispositions cultivated by scientific practice. Supported by a $3.1 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust, this project will focus on identifying virtues among laboratory scientists — that  is, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional dispositions to act in ways that advance the good of both the individual and a given community. Over a three-year period, the project team (including psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians, and historians) will use broad surveys and intensive ethnographic studies to examine the dispositions that are correlated with laboratory research in biology. Drawing on existing literature and original research, the team will also consider how these dispositions might sustain or impede human flourishing in both science and other contexts, including familial, religious, and civic communities. Furthermore, a smaller study of musical ensembles will provide a contrasting look at highly-trained, cooperative teamwork in a non-scientific field. We anticipate that this project will generate significant transdisciplinary research, such as spurring theological and philosophical reflection on the virtues in new and perhaps unexpected ways.

Housed in Notre Dame’s new Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing, Directed by Celia Deane-Drummond, the project will be led by co-PI’s Celia Deane-Drummond (Theology), Darcia Narvaez (Psychology), and Tom Stapleford (Program of Liberal Studies), with collaboration from Agustin Fuentes (Anthropology) and Margot Fassler (Theology and Music).The full research team will include six new postdoctoral fellows and six graduate students across multiple disciplines, as well as faculty consultants at other institutions, especially Durham University. Research will be conducted at both Notre Dame and Durham, with a major international conference at the end of the three-year project to be held at Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway.