Research Article

When Virtues are Vices: 'Anti-Science' Epistemic Values in Environmental Politics

  • Daniel J. Hicks orcid logo (University of California, Merced)


Since at least the mid-2000s, political commentators, environmental advocates, and scientists have raised concerns about an “anti-science” approach to environmental policymaking in conservative governments in the US and Canada. This paper explores and resolves a paradox surrounding at least some uses of the “anti-science” epithet. I examine two cases of such “anti-science” environmental policy, both of which involve appeals to epistemic values that are widely endorsed by both scientists and philosophers of science. It seems paradoxical to call an appeal to epistemic values “anti-science.” I develop an analysis that, I argue, can resolve this paradox. This analysis is a version of the “aims approach” to science and values, drawing on ideas from axiology and virtue ethics. I characterize the paradox in terms of conflicts or tensions between epistemic and pragmatic aims, and argue that there is a key asymmetry between them: epistemic aims are valuable, in part, because they are useful for pursuing pragmatic aims. Thus, when epistemic and pragmatic aims conflict, epistemic aims need to be reconceptualized in order to reconcile them to pragmatic aims. When this is done, in the “anti-science” cases, the epistemic values are scientific vices rather than virtues. Thus the “anti-science” epithet is apt.

Keywords: epistemic values, values in science, anti-science, aims of science, aims approach, environmental politics, air pollution, multiple comparisons

How to Cite:

Hicks, D. J., (2022) “When Virtues are Vices: 'Anti-Science' Epistemic Values in Environmental Politics”, Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 14: 12. doi:

Download PDF



Published on
30 Apr 2022
Peer Reviewed