Conditional objectivism: a strategy for connecting the social sciences and practical decision-making

Rolf Reber, Nicolas Bullot

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter introduces a research strategy – which we call conditional objectivism – that offers researchers a heuristic for taking into account a plurality of value systems while pursuing professional scientific research. This strategy aims to make empirical research in the social sciences available to value-based decision-making. Conditional objectivism draws from research in different branches of philosophy and the methodology of the social sciences. It posits that psychologists and other social scientists ought to make explicit the values that orient their practice and are served by their research. In contrast to conditional objectivism, a number of scientists have their research guided by the ideal of value-free objectivity. According to the latter view, good scientists ought not to engage with values when conducting scientific activities and making decisions in relation to science. The regulative assumption of these researchers is the heuristic “value freedom leads to objective research from a neutral viewpoint.” Value-free objectivity is widely adopted in the social sciences. However, as an approach to professional research embedded in political history, value-free objectivity faces several objections. Specifically, persuasive evidence shows that research in psychology is value-based and can be biased by unarticulated judgments about political values. Rarely are scientists able to formulate research questions and discuss experimental findings from a value-neutral standpoint, even if they aspire to abide by essential virtues of research ethics such as value-neutrality, objectivity, and intellectual humility (i.e., the admission that one’s findings and their explanation can be erroneous or practically misleading). To address the problem of biases, we argue that conditional objectivism provides a better method than value-free objectivity for guiding both empirical research and moral decisions informed by scientific research. After introducing the core heuristic of conditional objectivism by way of a flow diagram, we discuss open problems regarding evidence-based practical recommendations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Philosophy of Science for the Social Sciences
EditorsJ. Valsiner
PublisherSpringer Boston
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-33099-6
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-33098-9
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Publication series

NameTheory and History in the Human and Social Sciences
ISSN (Print)2523-8663
ISSN (Electronic)2523-8671

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    Reber, R., & Bullot, N. (2019). Conditional objectivism: a strategy for connecting the social sciences and practical decision-making. In J. Valsiner (Ed.), Social Philosophy of Science for the Social Sciences (pp. 73-92). (Theory and History in the Human and Social Sciences). Springer Boston.