Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Scientism &/or Naturalism?

To be honest, I've hardly researched scientism itself because I've always seen it as a position or stance on the importance of science to philosophy and often more broadly. Thus I never took it to be a philosophy which advances independent arguments and positions on philosophical subjects. Indeed if it did do such things, it would be like a position within philosophy (such as anti-realism or physicalism). Naturalism, on the other hand, is indeed a position within philosophy.

Scientism, therefore, can be deemed to be over and above naturalism.

It can be argued that one can be a philosophical naturalist without displaying strong scientistic leanings. Such a philosopher can be broadly naturalistic in his philosophy; though not strongly scientistic. Indeed he may know little science and therefore may not feel the need to consult the findings of science every time he tackles a philosophical issue. A scientistic philosopher, on the other hand, would argue that science must always be consulted on virtually every issue.

For example, if a philosopher is tackling the notion of a object or a person (or even if he's tackling whether or not there's a God who exists outside space and time), he must see what science has to say on this issue. Either that or he must use scientific findings as a tool to clarify the issue or even help him find the answers.

In terms of self-described supporters of scientism, they will carry lots of baggage about the relation between science and, well, everything else. As for those who're accused by others of being proponents of scientism (which happens a lot), I don't suppose they'll carry that much – or any – baggage.

Thus scientism, surely, requires an explicit and self-conscious commitment.

In terms of philosophers and scientism again. A distinction has to be made between what philosophers write/argue and their general attitude towards science. What they write and argue can't itself be science; though they can have an attitude towards science which people may call 'scientistic'. This was true of the logical positivists – and that's a point which they, and the early Wittgenstein, admitted.

In more detail: the logical positivists - and Quine later - argued that science tells us “what is” (i.e., it provides our basic ontological commitments). That effectively means that science has the last word on what is. Nonetheless, what scientistic philosophers (as well as logical positivists in the past) do is not itself science. It can be scientistic (and even scientific); though it isn't itself science.

Criticisms of Scientism

Having said all that about the relation between scientistic philosophers and science, some would still argue that “scientistic people tend to be less concerned about actually consulting scientifically sound theories and more about being arrogantly in opposition to whatever they deem 'unscientific' -- notably religion”.

Following on from that, others have argued (understandably) that scientism works against the “commitment to religious freedom as an integral part of democracy”. However, I could imagine even a hardcore scientistic philosopher being committed to religious freedom. If I were that hardcore scientistic philosopher, I would be committed to religious freedom.... except – hah! - when that religious freedom leads to a lack of other people's freedoms and even, dare I say, the destruction of “evil atheistic secularism”, etc. In other words, the freedom of a religion my entail allowing it to deny other people's freedoms. Indeed such religions exist.

Though there's also a problem with coming at scientism from that angle: that scientism is automatically arrogant and even somewhat totalitarian. Sure, it could be... in principle; though that's true of all philosophical and non-philosophical positions. So I'm not sure why scientism, in other words, should be singled out for displaying traits that most schools display and which religions and political ideologies most certainly display.

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