“Was Sir William Crookes Epistemically Virtuous?” Online First Article of Upcoming Special Issue on Psychical Research

I’m pleased to announce the online first/in-press version of an article to appear in an upcoming special issue of Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, dedicated to psychical research and parapsychology in the history of science and medicine. Thanks to the support of Greg Radick, the editor of Studies, I had the privilege to guest-edit this special issue containing eight articles selected from about 24 papers presented at a three-days conference I organised at University College London last year.


Ian James Kidd, Durham University


William Crookes (1832-1919)

The aim of this paper is to use Sir William Crookes’ researches into psychical phenomena as a sustained case study of the role of epistemic virtues within scientific enquiry. Despite growing interest in virtues in science, there are few integrated historical and philosophical studies, and even fewer studies focussing on controversial or ‘fringe’ sciences where, one might suppose, certain epistemic virtues (like open-mindedness and tolerance) may be subjected to sterner tests. Using the virtue of epistemic courage as my focus, it emerges that Crookes’ psychical researches were indeed epistemically courageous, but that this judgment must be grounded in sensitivity to the motivational complexity and context-sensitivity of the exercise of epistemic virtues. The paper then considers Crookes’ remarks on the relationship between epistemic virtuousness and the intellectual integrity and public duties of scientists, thereby placing epistemic virtues in the context of wider debates about the authority of science in late modern societies. I conclude that Crookes’ researches into psychical phenomena offer instructive lessons for historians of science and virtue epistemologists concerning the complexity and contextuality of epistemic virtues, and the profitable forms that future studies of virtues in science could take.

Sir William Crookes; Epistemic virtues; Psychical research; Spiritualism; Virtue epistemology

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

About Sommer_HPS

Dr. Andreas Sommer, historian of the human sciences at Cambridge University, UK. View all posts by Sommer_HPS

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