Exploring the Conceptual and Normative Links Between Science and Society

 (This specialisation is NOT running during 2022-2023)

In recent years, the cultural role of science in our society has profoundly changed. The neutrality of science, both epistemological and social, has increasingly been called into question. As it has become more integrated with corporate research and development, science is now sometimes thought to be nothing more than an accessory to global capitalism. Such a position calls for critical normative and conceptual analysis. The complexity of the relationship between science and society requires epistemological study aimed at improving our understanding of what science actually says and what scientists actually do. That conceptual and empirical work must, in turn, be supplemented by normative evaluation, examining the ways in which the products of science (especially contemporary technology) interact with the social world.

Since most ESST students that will come to UCLouvain are not trained as philosophers, we have focused our training around two tools that are designed to get you up to speed in contemporary philosophy of science.

    1. 30h graduate seminar: We offer an annual seminar which covers the intersection of philosophy of science, ethics, and philosophy of technology, entitled “Ethical Aspects of the Relation between Science and Society in a Digital World.” This class covers some core topics in these fields (such as the science-and-values literature and discussions of the ethics of privacy), and is then largely driven by student interest. In recent years, for example, the class has covered topics as diverse as conservation biology, scientific research and the military (dual-use), feminist philosophy of science, science denial, and the interface between science and policy.
    2. Mini-conference meetings: Every few weeks, all ESST students will be expected to present their work in progress with slides or text, in short presentations of twenty to thirty minutes. During these meetings, the group will discuss your research progress, and our faculty, graduate students, and postdocs will offer advice and help you to plan your next steps. We will also draw on expertise from other fields, if we have local academics who could help improve your work. These meetings will allow ESST students to function as fully integrated members of our research group, not merely temporary visitors.

All theses will be co-supervised by at least two of our professors; no student will have only one supervisor. These include not only our three philosophers of science, Pr. Alexandre Guay, Pr. Charles Pence, or Pr. Peter Verdée, but also co-supervisors from other fields, when necessary. Our final list of co-supervisors will be available soon.

In order to give high quality supervision, no more than 2–3 students will be admitted in this specialization in a given year.

Example Thesis Topics
These suggestions are only here to give a general idea of the kinds of theses that our faculty regularly supervise. The final subject will be the result of discussions between the student and the supervisors.

  • scientific expertise
  • relations between science and ideology
  • the authority of science
  • the neutrality of science
  • biotechnology and ethics
  • scientific research and the military
  • ecology and sustainable development
  • science denial (agnotology)
  • scientific reasoning, explanation, and justification

ESST students at UCLouvain do not need to have knowledge of French. The graduate seminar and all student supervision are performed in English.

Description of the Research Centre
Founded in 1958 by Prof. Jean Ladrière, the Center for Philosophy of Science and Societies (CEFISES) is a research center operating within the Institut supérieur de philosophie at the Université catholique de Louvain. Following the vision of its founder, it is focused on all questions of philosophical importance which arise in the formal, natural, and social sciences, as well as the ethical and social relations which those sciences entail. Our members work on the full range of philosophical questions raised by the sciences, including those within philosophy of science, formal philosophy, and ethics and practical philosophy. Many of us have dual training in philosophy and science.

In close contact with scientific disciplines (formal, natural, and social), CEFISES examines, using analytic methods, both fundamental philosophical problems and those which are more topical, linked to one or many specific fields. We thus explore the epistemological status, cognitive significance, and social influence of scientific models, and the diverse conceptions of humanity and nature which underlie them.

But scientific activity also contains an historical and social dimension, which the philosophy of science must take into account. For this reason, CEFISES is also focused on interactions between philosophy and history of science, as well as the impact of technoscience and new technology on contemporary society.

Contact person
UCLouvain representative in the ESST network

Prof. Alexandre Guay; Email: alexandre.guay@uclouvain.be