Pluralism, values and context: understanding the boundaries of plurality in scientific practices in the case of neglected tropical diseases

My Ph.D. thesis was examined by Heather Douglas (university of Waterloo) and Sarah Edwards (UCL) in December 2017. You can access the full text here


In my thesis, I give a philosophical account of pluralities in scientific inquiry. The pluralist argument I present in my work is the rejection of the monist assumption that the aim of science is to provide a single, complete and coherent account of phenomena. Instead, I argue that monist assumptions must be challenged and replaced with the following pluralist tenets: there are multiple aims in science; different approaches have distinct aims, focusing on different aspects of phenomena; and each account is particular to the specific questions and aims of an approach.

In my Ph.D. thesis I focus on current efforts of the World Health Organisation to eliminate Human African Trypanosomiasis – in particular, the development of new anti-parasitic drugs. I argue that drug discovery and development requires a plurality of approaches, each focusing on different aspects of phenomena. The pluralist argument I present here is normative in the sense that scientific inquiry ought to be pluralist (instead of monistic), in which a multiplicity of accounts and approaches is necessary to explain and explore different aspects of phenomena. Moreover, I argue that the plurality of approaches and accounts employed to achieve a certain aim is bounded by pragmatic values. I argue that pragmatic values determine the best way to achieve a specific aim within the broader socio-economic and political context of scientific inquiry. In my thesis, I argue that the extent of plurality in scientific practices involved in developing new drugs to eliminate HAT must be understood with respect to the pragmatic values that define the best way to eliminate HAT in its current socio-economic and political context.

In my thesis, I provide a normative argument for pluralism, challenging monist assumptions about scientific practices and their aims. Moreover, I provide a pragmatic framework within which to understand and explain the extent of pluralities in scientific practices.