Professor Janet Kourany (University of Notre Dame) speaks at a workshop on Ignorance and Under-representation at the University of Edinburgh, 10th March 2015. Part of the Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group.
Abstract: Science has traditionally been billed as our foremost producer of knowledge. For at least ten years now, however, science has also been billed as an important producer of ignorance. Indeed, historian of science Robert Proctor has coined a new term, agnotology, to refer to the study of ignorance, and it turns out that almost all of the ignorance studied in this new area is produced by science. The type of ignorance that has garnered most attention is what Proctor calls ignorance as “active construct,” the kind of ignorance (to use Proctor’s phrase) “made, maintained, and manipulated” by science — by an increasingly politicized and commercialized science. But Proctor has distinguished two other types of ignorance also produced by science: ignorance as “passive construct,” that is, ignorance as an unintended by-product of research decisions; and ignorance as “virtuous”— when “not knowing” is accepted in research as a consequence of adopting certain values. In the masterclass I will spend some time characterizing these three types of ignorance and their relation to the conception of ignorance endemic in traditional epistemology and philosophy of science. This will lead to some tentative suggestions regarding what agnotology might contribute to philosophy and what philosophy might contribute back. Finally, I will relate these ideas to one of the Workshop themes: ignorance and the underrepresentation of women in science.