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Pursuitworthiness, Inductive Risk and Female Viking Warriors

April 23, 2021 - 3:30pm

online webinar

April 23, 2021 3:35pm Central Standard Time (UTC-6)

Pursuitworthiness, Inductive Risk and Female Viking Warriors

Rune Nyrup (University of Cambridge)


Abstract: Debates over values in science usually focus on acceptance. The use of nonepistemic values to guide decisions about pursuit is often seen as unproblematic but uninteresting. Elliott and McKaughan (2009, Phil. Sci. 76:598-611) have questioned this division, pointing out that decisions about pursuit can indirectly influence acceptance, by shaping what types of evidence and well-developed hypotheses become available. This paper further complicates this pictures, by highlighting influences running in the opposite direction, from acceptance to pursuit. I focus on an argument by feminist archaeologist Joan Gero (2007,  J. Archeaological Method and Theory, 14:311-327), which criticises the tendency to overvalue certainty and avoid ambiguity in archaeological interpretation. I argue that this can be interpreted in terms of inductive risk considerations: traditional archaeology overvalues the avoidance of false or poorly supported interpretations, and undervalues new interpretative hypotheses, especially ones that are more tentative or speculative. As this tends to disincentivise archaeologists from pursuing certain kinds of questions—ones concerning marginal groups that were less likely to leave behind unambiguous material evidence—this methodological norm is not value neutral. In this paper, I propose an account of the complex interplay between pursuit and acceptance which underpins Gero's argument, and use it to analyse a recent debate in archaeology over whether there is evidence for the existence of female Viking warriors.