Scientism and the Limits to Science

An important thread of mine is that scientism – the presumption that anything not-objectively-evidenced-as-scientific has no value – is the problematic meme of our times. And I mean that in everyday social, political and media life, not in academic philosophy and psychology.

The polarisation that has driven the god vs science wars has led those on the “new atheist” side of any debate to breathtaking levels of arrogance and extremism in dismissing anyone that begs to differ whilst at the same time attracting so many to the naively perceived “right side” of any debate. Even closer to everyday life, politicians and economists without objective evidence explicit to their every move struggle to make progress, without a kinda psuedo-objectivity invented just to play the game. And so much of that is getting built into our algorithms, mental as well as machine software, that filter the information and argumentation we are all exposed to.

It is an incredibly destructive and dangerous meme.

I was therefore very interested when I saw this new book co-edited by one of my favourite current philosophers, Massimo Pigliucci.

After querying, and agreeing, there really are no pros to scientism, I was intrigued to see what this collection of essays had to say, some of the titles do suggest support for the idea of science without limits. It is an new academic book, and priced accordingly, but early and/or unedited versions of some of the essays can be found on-line.

Obviously co-editor Maarten Boudry’s Why Science Does Not Have Limits looks to be the most “pro” and the two by Massimo Pigliucci and Mariam Thalos In Defence of Demarcation and Against Border Patrols look closest to my own “good fences” position. I have those 3 and Stephen Law’s Scientism! in downloaded on-line forms available to read. (In progress.)

As I say, my own position is clear. There is nothing wrong with the broadly-defined science-as-natural-philosophy view that everything “can” and will be explained by science, and that “everything” is indeed supervenient on the fundamental levels of our scientific model – kinda by definition in that metaphysics. But that’s a long way from practical reality that says things incompletely and speculatively explained by science now – by logical extension of objective evidence according to that model – must not give way to “better” psychological-value-based models in practice. As ever this is a semantic debate about “limits” and “values” when dealing with both the here and now reality and with the eternal model at the same time. Meta-limits. I’ll be back.

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[Post Note: Of course one reason this immediately resonated and prompted me to comment before significantly reviewing the new content, is because my immediately previous post on Pinker and political correctness tied this to the fetish of scientism within more psychological human topics. Stuff that cannot immediately be rendered “scientific” is practically taboo in some would-be scientific fields, like psychology itself.]

[Post Note: And it’s an ever present topic, here Martin Rees being quoted.

Don’t generally agree with Rees’ modesty take – he is a theistic god-of-the-gaps kinda person – but topical.]


Also published on Medium.

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