Scientific Practice and Analogical Reasoning: The Problem of Ingrained Analogy
Sullivan-Clarke, Andrea Gayle
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From metaphors that direct scientific inquiry to analogical inferences that justify particular hypotheses or models, analogical reasoning plays numerous roles in scientific practice. While in some cases the analogy is explicit and carefully controlled, scientific communities are often not aware of the analogies that inform their research. More importantly, when scientific communities take the analogical correspondences presupposed by a metaphor for granted, a practice I refer to as the problem of ingrained analogy, the uncritical use of analogy becomes dangerous. For example, the race as species metaphor that guided 19th century race science endorsed a research program that promoted a hierarchy of race, and ultimately resulted in social policies that marginalized large segments of American society. A similar worry is linked with the metaphor, prenatal hormone as an organizer of the human brain, which motivates brain organization research. In both cases, reasoning from analogy has the potential to misdirect research programs. Not only does it hinder or sometimes prevent the acquisition of knowledge, it can result in social policies that have profound, and long-lasting, negative effects. In philosophy of science, the ambivalence toward analogical reasoning has taken the form of an unhelpful denial, which fails to recognize the constructive, and often invaluable, role that analogy plays. Thus, the challenge for any account of analogical reasoning is to recognize its contributions while also articulating normative guidelines that bring ingrained analogies to the surface and subject them to systematic, critical appraisal. In my dissertation, I argue that communities must adopt strategies that encourage an awareness of the assumptions associated with their use of analogy and propose strategies for critical assessment, drawing from feminist theory and social epistemology. By employing such strategies, scientific communities can not only avoid being misled by analogical reasoning, but by instituting practices that limit harm, scientific communities also become more socially responsible.
- Philosophy