Ethics & policy often rely on simplified understandings of what science is or what a scientific theory says (such as evolutionary theory). Sometimes these understandings are no longer justified given the state-of-the-art.


Hence my focus as a philosopher of science lies in investigating the fault lines between (1) how science is interpreted by non-scientific domains and (2) what science actually says or how science actually works .

This has lead me to focus on concepts such as 'progress, 'success', or 'autonomy' and how they are rooted in current evolutionary theory. It has also led me to reflect on whether trust in science is justified given how scientific research is currently organised.  


This is a new type of philosophy of science, that is not concerned with either analytic clarity or interdisciplinary synthesis for their own sakes.




Humans' place in nature was once -- and we're going back a long time now -- defined within a teleological framework. Since Darwin this framework has been all but dead.

Yet scientists and laypeople alike continue to talk about 'higher' and 'lower' organisms, about 'evolutionarily successful' species, and about the 'desires' or 'wants' of whole organisms.

My guiding intuition is that this is not wholly irrational; my work is to understand how precisely such concepts still make sense, even today.


A certain view of human evolution -- that it took place in a fixed Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness -- supports an ethical view that evolved tendencies are not trustworthy, and that they should be ameliorated through the action of human autonomous reason. 

This has ramifications for meta-ethics (the is-ought distinction), the ethics of enhancement (as long as you don't hurt anyone, you're free to do as you please), and ethics of relationships (as long as you don't hurt anyone, you're free to do as you please).

This view is either outdated or misguided, and when one looks at more recent science, I argue that an ethics based on trust and service seems more appropriate.

Ivory Tower.png


Reproducibility problems in science, and especially scientific misconduct and sloppy science, bring renewed urgency to the question: why can/should science and scientists be trusted?

This concerns scientific integrity and methodology, and also science and science-based policy.

Currently this area is too ad-hoc, and not specific enough on how different scientific domains differ.

I propose a "logic of professionalism": impersonal and algorithmic incentive/procedure reform alone cannot safeguard trust, but only scientific autonomy and dedication to service.

I am currently working out the implications of this view for various academic communities: philosophers of science, policy-makers, and applied ethicists.

©2020 by Hugh Desmond.