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Managing Salience: The Importance of Intellectual Virtue in Analyses of Biased Scientific Reasoning


  • Moira Howes


Feminist critiques of science show that systematic biases strongly influence what scientific communities find salient. Features of reality relevant to women, for instance, may be under-appreciated or disregarded because of bias. Many feminist analyses of values in science identify problems with salience and suggest better epistemologies. But overlooked in such analyses are important discussions about intellectual virtues and the role they play in determining salience. Intellectual virtues influence what we should find salient. They do this in part by managing the emotions, which are cognitively involved in what we actually do find salient. One reason intellectual virtues do not factor more strongly in feminist epistemology is the mistaken assumption that they could not serve as explicit epistemic community standards for scientific inquiry. There are good reasons, however, to think in terms of community intellectual virtue and consequently, to advance explicit public standards of intellectual virtue for scientific research. To show how explicit public standards for intellectual virtue might improve reasoning in biased conditions, I analyze a striking oversight in several evolutionary immunological hypotheses concerning women's reproduction and sexuality. I conclude that feminist epistemology would benefit from greater consideration of intellectual virtues, particularly in connection with social epistemological insights.

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