Imagining Responsibility, Imagining Responsibly: Reflecting on Our Shared Understandings of Science

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Sample, Matthew
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If we cannot define science using only analysis or description, then we must rely on imagination to provide us with suitable objects of philosophical inquiry. This process links our findings to the particular ways in which we philosophers idealize scientific practice and carve out an experimental space between real world practice and thought experiments. As an example, I examine Heather Douglas’ recent work on the responsibilities of scientists and contrast her account of science with that of “technoscience,” as mobilized in nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and similar control-oriented fields. The difference between the two idealizations of science reveals that one’s preferred imaginary of science, even when inspired by real practices, has real implications for the distribution of responsibility. Douglas’ account attributes moral obligations to scientists, while a framework of “technoscience” spreads responsibility across the network of practice. I use this case to call for an ethics of imagination, in which philosophers of science hold themselves accountable for their imaginaries. We ought reflect on the idiosyncrasy of the philosophical imagination and consider how our idealizations, if widely held, would affect our fellow citizens.