Merton Rules Revisited

Mertonian Norms Revisited 

[DUMMY TEXT] Emotions play an important role in philosophical learning and research. Philosophers are often deeply committed to their positions and defend their views with passion. We demand everyone's agreement after all, and it infuriates us if not everyone agrees. This often plays out in the classroom in heated debates. But many others in the sciences and humanities end up finding philosophers brutish, insensitive and plainly aggressive. Some, but not all, scientists like to collaborate. Science, in the best of its versions should be a collective effort, where specialization can take place because axioms have been agreed on and paradigms are not undermined. And ultimately for philosophy, this should hold, too: if we want others to agree to our positions, there should be a common basis for our thoughts. To some it may come naturally to then look for more collaborative ways of interacting. Robert Merton has expressed this idea in four norms that scientists should respect for an ethical, effective and productive science: these are communism, universalism, disinterestedness and organized skepticism. Adapted to a philosophical context, they should mean something like this:

  • communism: intellectual property should be common, not held hostage by individuals or groups. Knowledge shall be made accessible to everyone. 

  • universalism: a philosopher's credibility should not depend on their socio-economic status. 

  • disinterestedness: philosophers act for the benefit of a common philosophical enterprise, rather than for their personal gain.

  • organized skepticism: philosophical claims should be exposed to critical scrutiny before being accepted: both in methodology and institutional codes of conduct.

I believe that all philosophers can and should act within those ethical boundaries. And I believe this could temper our emotions, prevent hurt and promote harmonic interaction, even and especially when disagreement occurs.