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The Role of Universities in a Sustainable Society. Why Value-Free Research is Neither Possible nor Desirable

Chair of Christian Social Ethics, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich (LMU), 80539 Munich, Germany
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Sustainability 2020, 12(7), 2811; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12072811
Received: 26 December 2019 / Revised: 18 March 2020 / Accepted: 31 March 2020 / Published: 2 April 2020
The current climate crisis confronts us with a deep discrepancy between knowledge and action. Therefore, this article is looking for a readjustment of the relationship between science and society. The positivist self-understanding of science and its fragmented organizational form lead to a marginalization of ethical questions. Instead, sustainability calls for a re-examination of the preconditions and embedding contexts of supposedly value-free research. Faced with the increasing complexity of the modern world, ethics must spell out a new “grammar of responsibility” that addresses the prevalent “declamatory overload of responsibility”. Ethicists can fulfil this role by uncovering and regulating conflicting goals and dilemmas. Instead of playing the role of “marginal echo chambers”, universities ought to assume their social responsibility as structural policy actors. This article suggests a methodology of responsible research as a specific ethical contribution to the model of “transformative” and “catalytic” science for a “post-normal age”. True to their founding mission, academia should herald a “New Enlightenment” that is more self-reflexive regarding its own practical and ethical preconditions, foundations, and consequences. This article presents a possible practical method for fostering the dialogue between the natural sciences and the humanities and to link research, education, practice, and social communication in new ways. It is concluded that a foundation of a whole-rationality approach with a multidimensional understanding of wisdom and, respectively, rationality and sagacity is necessary for sustainable universities. View Full-Text
Keywords: sustainability in science; transformative science; grammar of responsibility; ethics of knowledge; universities as echo chambers of society; catalytic science; whole-institution approach sustainability in science; transformative science; grammar of responsibility; ethics of knowledge; universities as echo chambers of society; catalytic science; whole-institution approach
MDPI and ACS Style

Vogt, M.; Weber, C. The Role of Universities in a Sustainable Society. Why Value-Free Research is Neither Possible nor Desirable. Sustainability 2020, 12, 2811.

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