Past Research Projects – University of Copenhagen

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Social Epistemology Research Group > Research Projects > Past Research Projects

Past Research Projects

Below you'll find brief descriptions of projects that were conducted by SERG. 

The Epistemology of Liberal Democracy

Contact: Klemens Kappel
 We tend to think of liberal democracy as providing the most ethically defensible way to set up moderns societies. However, a less well-understood topic is the extent to which liberal democracies may not only be ethically desirable, but also epistemically favorable. Consequently, the purpose of this project is to investigate the norms, practices, and institutions that determine how knowledge and justified belief is acquired, asserted, contested, transmitted and relied upon in liberal democracy, for the purpose of answering a series of questions relevant to the epistemology of liberal democracies: 

  • Under what conditions is free speech a truth-conducive social arrangement? 
  • When can we trust each others' testimony? 
  • What is the social and cooperative role of knowledge and knowledge attributions? 
  • What is the proper role of scientific expertise in democratic decision making? 
  • What is the proper response to disagreement, including disagreement among experts?
Although some of these topics have been broached within discussions about liberal democracies, little attention has been paid to recent epistemology, or relevant experimental research. The present project attempts to rectify this by not only incorporating relevant research in psychology, but also by developing computer bases simulation studies. More information here:
Participants: The project is conducted by Klemens Kappel, Nikolaj Jang Pedersen, Mikkel Gerken, and Kristoffer Ahlstrom, in collaboration with Erik J. Olsson (Lund), Jesper Kallestrup (Edinburgh), and Duncan Pritchard (Edinburgh). Advisory board: Alvin Goldman (Rutgers),  Philip Pettit (Princeton), Rainer Hegselman (Bayreuth), 
Sponsor: The project is sponsored by the Velux Foundation and based at the University of Copenhagen.

Funding period: 2009-2012.  

The Special Role of Science in Liberal Democracy 

Contact: Klemens Kappel
 It often assumed that science has a certain fundamental role in democratic decision making in liberal democracies. There should be a distinctive division of cognitive and deliberative labour according science the role of neutral supplier of relevant factual knowledge, whereas democratic decision processes should retain the task of deciding policies. However, more recently this view of the special role of science has become subject of some public and political controversy, as well as academic dispute. Many voices in academia as well as outside it question the legitimacy of according this special epistemic authority to science. Others, among them sociologists of science, stress as illusory or plain false that science can be neutral in the ways that according science this role would seem to require. According to these views, science is replete with values, and this makes the picture of science as a neutral arbiter of facts naive at best. Yet others deny that science and politics can be disentangled in our actual scientific and bureaucratic practices, again putting the idea of a division of roles under pressure.

The main purpose of the project is to investigate idea that science should be accorded this distinctive role in liberal democracies, and the questions that this ideal raises. Accordingly, the project will cover three interconnected questions:

  • (a) Justification and legitimacy. While arguably fundamental to liberal democracy, the idea that science should be accorded the role as supplier of facts in democratic decision-making has never been extensively developed and defended. How should it be elaborated? How is it justified? There exists many views about how knowledge is best produced; how can it nonetheless be legitimate to accord science and academia in general a special authority? What are the plausible alternatives, if there are any? Should decision-making processes in science, for example, be influenced by democratic processes?
  • (b) Value neutrality and objectivity. Many philosophers argue that the value-ladenness of science is pervasive. Is this right, and if so how does it affect important ideals of neutrality and objectivity? Is some element of value-ladenness compatible with science having this sort of role in democratic decision-making, and if so why? Questions of value-ladenness and objectivity have been discussed mainly in relation to the natural sciences. However, they loom large with respect to the social sciences and the humanities, academic fields that may also aspire to provide input to democratic decision-making processes. How do questions of value-ladenness affect the legitimacy and capacity of these disciplines as contributors to democratic decision-making?
  • (c) Science and politics entanglement. It may be argued that even if a division of labour - an arms-length-principle separating the scientific process from the policy process - is in principle a sound idea, the actual practice of scientific policy advice defies it. Many guidelines aiming at regulating this science-policy interface exist. How are they to be interpreted, and what are the experiences of trying to implement them? We focus on empirical and conceptual contributions addressing these concerns.

Participants: Klemens Kappel (Associate Professor), Julie Zahle (Assistant Professor), Karin Jønch-Clausen (PhD-student), Stine Djørup (PhD-student) 
: Carlsberg Foundation
Funding period:

Knowledge in Social Contexts

Contact: Mikkel Gerken
 A description of the project may be found here.
 The project is conducted by Mikkel Gerken.
 The project is sponsored, in part, by the Danish Research Council for the Humanities and is based at the University of Copenhagen. 
Funding period: