Subproject 1

The Epistemic Values of Academia

Project leader: dr. Rik Peels


The core question that I aim to answer in this project is the following:

What are the main epistemic values that the university ought to uphold and how are they reflected in the different methods that the various academic disciplines employ?

In order to provide a clear articulation and defense of the university’s epistemic values, and in order to provide tools that help university leaders and policy makers to meet epistemic responsibilities that issue from these values, it is important to first get a firmer conceptual grip on these values. For, universities can meet their epistemic responsibilities only if it is sufficiently clear what epistemic phenomena are worthwhile pursuing, as well as how these values relate to each other, both in research and teaching. This first project will carry out the conceptual groundwork that will be employed in each of the other projects.

Epistemic values are usually contrasted with moral, economic, prudential, social, and political values. Whereas the latter are tied to such things as moral goodness, what is useful, or the well-being of society, the former are closely related to truth or knowledge—episteme being the Greek word for knowledge or understanding. Whereas hospitals take care of people’s physical and mental well-being, courts aim to establish justice, and so on, universities were founded and are still considered to aim primarily at acquiring knowledge, gaining insight, understanding reality, and transferring that knowledge, insight, and understanding to new generations and to larger audiences beyond academia.

Even though this project will draw on the existing material in philosophy of science and epistemology, the goal of this project is not to defend a single epistemic value as the sole or prime epistemic value that ought to be pursued in academia, but rather to explore which epistemic values—and this may well be a wide variety—ought to be pursued in academia, how these different epistemic values relate to each other, and how they are reflected in the various methods that different academic disciplines employ.