• Jack Cummins
    4.2k
    This is a topic which I have been thinking about recently, because not just among the philosophy community but, in general, science is seen as being an important aspect of knowledge. This is in the emphasis on evidence based research. I am certainly not against science and try to keep up to date in its findings.

    This thread is aimed to look at the nature of how science is often seen. One book, which looks at this is, 'The Myths We Live By', by Mary Midgley. She queries the neutrality of science, saying,
    'It struck me as remarkable that people answer questions about science in two opposite ways today.
    On the one hand, they often praise science for being value-free: objective, unbiased, neutral, a pure source of facts. Just as, as often, however, they speak of it as being itself a source of values, perhaps the only true source of them.'
    This raises questions about the connection between science and values.

    Also, I have been reading Rom Harre's, 'Varieties of Realism: A Rationale for the Natural Sciences'. He says, 'Logic and with it the principle of ambivalence migrate from the epistemology of science to the persuasive rhetorics of scientific communities.' He points to the ideas of Feyerband, including the claim about science, including '"Scientific rationality" may be no better, indeed it may be even worse as a general ideology for regulating the relations of people one to another and to the natural world than lay rationality.'

    Harre also suggests that, '
    the essences of human cognitive processes and structures are semantic networks, webs of meaning held together by ordered sequence of analogies. Metaphor and simile are the characteristic tropes of scientific thought, not formal validity of argument'.

    This thread is not aimed to attack and criticize science, but just to look at its role and values from a critical point of view. Also, even though I use the words 'objective' and 'truth' in the title, I realise these words are open to question. My own meaning of objective is as something which lies beyond the individual and can be measured. I am not sure that there absolute 'truths', but that is not to say that everything is relative. The whole point in using such terms is that they are used by some writers and that even questioning such terms is important in critical examination of science. Any thoughts...?
  • emancipate
    452
    Science is a valid mode of knowing.
    Philosophy is a valid mode of knowing.
    Art is a valid mode of knowing.
    Theology is a valid mode of knowing.

    The problem is when science is epistemologically privileged over the others as a mode of knowing. Unfortunately we are in an era where the materialist reductionist perspective is dominant.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.2k

    Yes, these are all valid means of knowledge and it does seem that the materialist reductionist perspective is given prominence. This is especially true within psychology in the debate as to whether psychology is a science. I know a lot of people who have studied psychology as a BSc and quibble over people who have studied it as s BA, as if it less valuable or valid.
  • Agent Smith
    6.3k
    As much as I love science for its inherently logical structure, it's too objective with respect to value i.e. it can't parse (apparently) subjective worth. A smile that one person gave me is valuable to me in ways that can't be made sense of objectively. That's what most people would say and believe but consider the possibility that there's no such thing as subjective value and that the smile I referred to above actually has objective significance; it's just that I haven't figured it out yet.

    Aesthetics is well-known for the subjective-objective debate over beauty. "Beauty," as Shakespeare once wrote, "lies in the eyes of the beholder!" Not necessarily: subjectivity is objectivity undeciphered.
  • Philosophim
    1.2k
    Science is not intended to be persuasive to people. Science is intended to be the most rational way to evaluate the world. People at their core are not rational, they are rationalizing. Rationalizing is the act of forming some type of explanation that justifies your own personal emotions and beliefs. Being rational requires effort, training, and character. Further, being rational is inefficient in most of your day to day living, so even rational people aren't going to be rational all the time.

    You can lead a person to science, but it doesn't mean they'll accept it. Generally to persuade people, you have to use rationality in combination with addressing their emotional feelings. Many people will often times reject rational arguments in favor of their own personal feelings, but that doesn't mean science is currently one of the most valuable tools we have to accurately assess the world.

    So I do agree that science alone will not persuade or motivate most people. It it wants to do so, it must make great efforts at creating the positive emotions in people that will make them open to accepting the rationality that science has to offer.
  • Joshs
    3.7k
    subjectivity is objectivity undeciphered.Agent Smith

    I tend to think it’s the other way around.
  • Agent Smith
    6.3k
    I tend to think it’s the other way around.Joshs

    Why not! Relativism.

    Man is the measure of all things. — Protagoras

    Old ideas deserve more attention than they get.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.2k

    Which old ideas do you think deserve more attention? Do you think that Western culture has gone too far in embracing relativism and plurality?
  • Tom Storm
    4.6k
    My own meaning of objective is as something which lies beyond the individual and can be measured. I am not sure that there absolute 'truths', but that is not to say that everything is relative.Jack Cummins

    Fair enough. We need to draw a distinction between science and scientism. Just we there is a difference between religion and fundamentalism. For my money science still provides the single most reliable pathway to knowledge about what we deign to call reality. It constructs tentative models of reality based on the most reliable information we have. It should not make proclamations about absolute truth.

    Agent Smith
    subjectivity is objectivity undeciphered.
    — Agent Smith

    I tend to think it’s the other way around.
    Joshs

    Objectivity is subjectivity undeciphered. Nice. I guess we might put science into the communities of intersubjective agreement category? Or something like this.
  • 180 Proof
    9.4k
    Science is not intended to be persuasive to people. Science is intended to be the most rational way to evaluate the world. People at their core are not rational, they are rationalizing. Rationalizing is the act of forming some type of explanation that justifies your own personal emotions and beliefs. Being rational requires effort, training, and character. Further, being rational is inefficient in most of your day to day living, so even rational people aren't going to be rational all the time.

    You can lead a person to science, but it doesn't mean they'll accept it. Generally to persuade people, you have to use rationality in combination with addressing their emotional feelings. Many people will often times reject rational arguments in favor of their own personal feelings, but that doesn't mean science is currently one of the most valuable tools we have to accurately assess the world.

    So I do agree that science alone will not persuade or motivate most people. It it wants to do so, it must make great efforts at creating the positive emotions in people that will make them open to accepting the rationality that science has to offer.
    Philosophim
    :100: Feyerabend couldn't have said this any better.


    Science is not perfect. It's often misused. It's only a tool. But it's the best tool we have. — Carl Sagan
    Only a method of inquiry (i.e. testing how I know what I think I know), science is not merely a worldview (i.e. socialized indoctrination/ideology-agnotology). It's the worst one for explaining aspects of the natural world (using other aspects of the natural world) except for all of the other "ways of knowing" tried so far. If you must, blame the prevalence of "reductive materialism" on what Marx critiqued as Capitalism's ubiquitious, or insideous, appeal (driver): "the commodity fetish" (i.e. mass consumerism à la Veblen's "conspicuous consumption"). Most folks, yourself included if I'm not mistaken, Jack, believe in antique ideas (& occult fantasies) which are far outside the scope of "reductive materialism" that are called "spiritual" "religious" "transpersonal" "supersensible" "mystical" "perennialist" "hermetic" "gnostic" etc from which they derive varying degrees of personal (psychological) meaning, and yet, insofar as such "seekers" are our contemporaries, they are also, at least, "lifestyle materialists".

    (Btw, by objective I understand propositional claims and their truthmakers (i.e. evidences) as subject / pov / language / guage-invariant. Subjective, on the other hand, denotes to me cognitively biased, prejudiced, evidence (public access)-free, rationalized, experiential, phenomenally self-aware (i.e. me-feeling, mineness)).
  • Jack Cummins
    4.2k

    I am definitely in favour of science as ' a method of enquiry'. Also, I admit that I have dabbled in reading all sorts of ideas in the last few years, and it has really been during lockdown that I have been reading more actual philosophy. I try to look from various angles and the Madfool often has called me 'truthseeker' because I am inclined to approach philosophy looking for 'answers'.

    As far as my own questioning of science, part of this comes from my own experience of academic establishments in England. In particular, it was on a couple of healthcare courses, I found that there was so much emphasis on so-called scientific expertise, which lacked any depth of critical analysis. Also, it does seem that in many aspects of thinking that people sometimes back up ideas with pseudo arguments, which are often made on some general ideas in science and, this sometimes includes media journalism.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    'It struck me as remarkable that people answer questions about science in two opposite ways today.
    On the one hand, they often praise science for being value-free: objective, unbiased, neutral, a pure source of facts. Just as, as often, however, they speak of it as being itself a source of values, perhaps the only true source of them.'
    Jack Cummins

    Profoundly important point, Jack. What is at issue is precisely the attitude known as 'scientism', which is 'the view that science is the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.' Amongst its most prominent advocates are Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, but there are many other secular intellectuals who implicitly or explicitly appeal to science as the 'arbiter of what is real' (Neil De Grasse Tyson, Jacques Monod, Steve Pinker, Francis Crick, Jerry Coyne, and many others.) Mary Midgley's book, Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Even Stranger Fears is another valuable analysis of this problem.

    The word 'scientism'is associated with a lecture given in 1959 by British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow. '"The Two Cultures" is the first part of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow which were published in book form as The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution the same year. Its thesis was that science and the humanities which represented "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" had become split into "two cultures" and that this division was a major handicap to both in solving the world's problems.'

    It remains a strong undercurrent in contemporary thought and culture. The general point to make is to begin to distinguish the roles of quantitative analysis and qualitative judgement (a.k.a. 'value judgement') in human affairs. Science is grounded in quantitative analysis, even if judgement always plays a role in e.g. what to measure, what experiment to pursue, what is worth investigating, and so on. But the philosophical issue of the ground of qualitative judgement is invisible to scientific analysis as it by definition it's not amenable to quantitative analysis. This is actually the issue that underlies the entire debate about facing up to the hard problem of consciousness, which is being flogged to death already in another thread, so I won't recap it here. Suffice to say for this thread that the general consensus is that questions of value are a matter for individuals, meaning, essentially, relativism and subjectivism, or conversely, there are no real (non-subjective) criteria for value judgement outside the individual conscience. Implicitly this states that 'the world' is devoid of any inherent value - which is (paradoxically!) a value judgement. There you have the tension at the heart of 'scientism'.

    Science is a form of culture in which life denies itself and refuses itself any value. It is a practical negation of life, which develops into a theoretical negation in the form of ideologies that reduces all possible knowledge to that of science, such as the human sciences whose very objectivity deprives them of their object: what value do statistics have faced with suicide, what do they say about the anguish and the despair that produce it? These ideologies have invaded the university, and are precipitating its destruction by eliminating life from research and teaching. Television is the truth of technology; it is the practice par excellence of barbarism: it reduces every event to current affairs, to incoherent and insignificant facts. — Michel Henri, Barbarism

    Science is intended to be the most rational way to evaluate the world.Philosophim

    I think 'the world' is too big a word, here. 'The world' includes the subject, the experiment, the starting axioms, the observations, and everything else. Scientific analysis starts with a specific question, and generally proceeds by ruling out, or bracketing out, anything deemed not relevant to the specific subject of the analysis. From this it is hoped to arrive at the most general idea possible, an hypothesis, which unites disparate observations into a coherent theory. But it can only ever proceed in terms of what is measurable or quantifiable. So I don't agree that it is the most rational way to evaluate 'the world'. It is the most rational way to evaluate many kinds of specific problems across an enormous range of subjects. But if you use it to evaluate 'the world' then it's subtly morphed into 'the scientific worldview'. The scientific attitude to the world ought to be to suspend such judgements.

    See also Six Signs of Scientism, Susan Haack and Science, Materialism and False Consciousness, Bas van Fraasen.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.2k

    It's interesting that you mentioned Steven Pinker as well as Dennett, because I have been reading some of a book by Pinker, called, 'The Stuff of Thought.' I do find that it is important to read and listen to all points of view and I can usually see some rationality in arguments, even those which I disagree with basically. I am not a materialist, but I did read a book by John Rawles, 'The Matter With Us: A Materialistic Account of the Human Predicament', a couple of months ago. That may explain why I ended up making this thread. I try to read books which challenge my perspective. But, it is interesting that you mention scientism because it may be an outlook which goes beyond the scientific method into an ideology.
  • Paine
    542

    I accept that the models created through science end up getting involved with other kinds of narratives beyond what they claim to claim as science per se..

    But the notion that such an influence is beyond the realm of effective ways to do things versus not having those means escapes me.

    Take the problem of mental illness as an example. We have the means to understand all kinds of suffering to be outside of the means of 'society' to manage. But our politics are far away from dealing with this thing science has put at our feet.

    I will become more interested in the problems of 'scientism' as a pattern of thinking when it proves itself unable to meet the challenges it has already given itself.
  • Jack Cummins
    4.2k

    One main thing is the importance of seeing how science offers models and only that. I come from the perspective of having worked in mental health care and, also at the moment I have a close friend who is an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital. It seems that there are competing ideas within psychiatry, including psychological approaches which recognize the role of trauma as being a factor which can trigger mental illness. However, there is some strong opposition to some holistic models, which recognize the role of social factors and life experiences. There are many thinkers who prefer to see mental illness just as being a matter of genetics and biochemistry. How mental illness is seen affects the treatment regime and support offered in mental health services.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    It's interesting that you mentioned Steven Pinker as well as Dennett, because I have been reading some of a book by Pinker, called, 'The Stuff of Thought.' I do find that it is important to read and listen to all points of view and I can usually see some rationality in arguments, even those which I disagree with basically.Jack Cummins

    I don't mind Steve Pinker and he has some good things to say about cognitive science, language, and so on. (Strange as it seems, the last Christmas present I ever received from my dear, departed mother, was Pinker's The Blank Slate, probably nearly 20 years ago.) And I think we need unabashed advocates for Enlightenment science and values even if I don't fully go along with them. When I call out scientism it is likewise not to demonise anyone but to draw out unexplored assumptions. You could say that 'scientism' is simply the attempt to assess philosophical problems in terms of scientific criteria, so it's definitely suggested by the title of your OP. (Interesting you mention Rawls, I've come across discussion of him in some of Nagel's books.)
  • Agent Smith
    6.3k
    Which old ideas do you think deserve more attention? Do you think that Western culture has gone too far in embracing relativism and plurality?Jack Cummins

    Plurality: Nature (as in life) has to do a fine balancing act between heterogeneity (increase the odds against external threats) & homogeneity (decrease the odds of internal strife).
  • Paine
    542

    Your account is interesting, and I have had my own experiences struggling against decisions made by those who make them. I figure all the sides in the arguments are made by scientists doing science. At least as the matters regard outcomes we personally care about.
  • Philosophim
    1.2k
    :100: Feyerabend couldn't have said this any better.180 Proof

    Thank you for the kind words 180 Proof.
  • Kenosha Kid
    3.2k
    One book, which looks at this is, 'The Myths We Live By', by Mary Midgley. She queries the neutrality of science, saying,
    'It struck me as remarkable that people answer questions about science in two opposite ways today.
    On the one hand, they often praise science for being value-free: objective, unbiased, neutral, a pure source of facts. Just as, as often, however, they speak of it as being itself a source of values, perhaps the only true source of them.'
    Jack Cummins

    I think the only extent to which that is done rightly is the extent to which it's preferable to base one's values on objective reality rather than fantasy, delusion, ignorance, or error. Just as one wants a consensus around facts to establish a (ever putative) scientific truth, one would like access to and consensus about facts pertaining to, say, whether or not an election was rigged and an insurrection justified. For many, such a standard is not required. To that extent, a scientific-like standard is reasonable, and there's no contradiction as implied by MM: if one's values are based on anything, valueless facts seem a good shout.

    That aside, it seems like mere innuendo to me. I don't think science is valueless, objective, or unbiased, nor do our values derive much from it, except in the above conscientiousness _sometimes_ (rarely). Our values are largely derived from nature and nurture, from experience, and if anything the scientific community is apt to manifest values through its constitution than be a credible source of them.

    The requirement to simulate an objective picture through agreement about the results of repeatable experiments keeps science mostly in check, relegating theories that attempt to implement bad values, such as racism via phrenology or eugenics, to the lunatic fringe while still making way for other value judgements around emotive areas like stem cell research, abortion safety, and climate action. It's perfectly viable to have a science that observes the facts of climate change but makes no recommendations, or even be in favour of apocalypse. We don't tend to get much of that because the intersect between people dedicating their lives to understanding this stage we briefly step onto and people who would sign humanity's death warrant for an easy billion dollars today, or be fine with others doing so, is almost zero. Personally I don't find quantum theory and the general theory of relativity particularly relevant to my values :rofl:
  • Agent Smith
    6.3k
    Here's the deal. From a video on youtube: We like to see measuring instruments as extensions of our senses. In a sense, like a poster once remarked, the belief that we have 5 senses is wrong; SONAR, RADAR, the list goes on.

    Time for some self-reflection now. We ourselves are measuring devices (our senses) and if truth and objectivity were the be-all-and-end-all of life and reality, evolution would've ensured the die out of all forms of subjectivity. The rule in evolution: if it's bad for survival then it has to go!

    Yet, humans have retained their subjectivity, we disagree on many issues and yes, we can be objective about them but that's not the point; we're subjective creatures too!

    From a Darwinian standpoint, one conclusion we can draw is objectivity, and truth (objectively defined) aren't as important - there are other, greater, benefit(s) we accrue from subjectivity and they're crucial to our survival.

    The paradox: Science (theory of evolution) is telling us, objectively to boot, that subjectivity is important! The truth is truth ain't as important as we think it is.

    We might have to change tack but that's another story.
  • ChrisH
    195
    On the one hand, they often praise science for being value-free: objective, unbiased, neutral, a pure source of facts. Just as, as often, however, they speak of it as being itself a source of values, perhaps the only true source of them.'Jack Cummins

    This isn't my experience.

    Of course some people will make all kinds of wild claims but "just as often" seems like hyperbole.
  • EnPassant
    602
    Science is a valid mode of knowing.
    Philosophy is a valid mode of knowing.
    Art is a valid mode of knowing.
    Theology is a valid mode of knowing.

    The problem is when science is epistemologically privileged over the others as a mode of knowing. Unfortunately we are in an era where the materialist reductionist perspective is dominant.
    emancipate

    Exactly. Science is concerned with primitive knowledge because it is concerned with matter which is primitive. Science cannot make informed judgements about ontological questions and questions about consciousness and being. These things require a higher language. The problem today is that scientism makes people believe that the language of science is the only valid language.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    he general point to make is to begin to distinguish the roles of quantitative analysis and qualitative judgement (a.k.a. 'value judgement') in human affairs. Science is grounded in quantitative analysis, even if judgement always plays a role in e.g. what to measure, what experiment to pursue, what is worth investigating, and so on.
    ...
    From this it is hoped to arrive at the most general idea possible, an hypothesis, which unites disparate observations into a coherent theory. But it can only ever proceed in terms of what is measurable or quantifiable. So I don't agree that it is the most rational way to evaluate 'the world'.
    Wayfarer

    What is often missed, is that mathematics itself is a value structure, and is therefore dependent on, and based in "value judgement". What has occurred through the history of humanity is that we have achieved significant levels of agreement, convention, concerning these value judgements of mathematics, and this has produced great confidence in the notion that "objective knowledge" is produced by mathematics. In reality this knowledge is better classed as 'inter-subjective'.

    Inter-subjective knowledge is dependent on agreement between individuals, concerning the applicable value principles. The trend in modern scientism based metaphysics, is to claim a separation between the value judgements which we have great agreement on (like mathematics, asserted as objective), and the value judgements which we do not have great agreement on (like personal pleasures, asserted as subjective), producing an unwarranted division between mathematical values and personal values. In reality though, there is no such separation, just a matter of the degree of agreement, and the type of things which we can more readily agree on.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    What is often missed, is that mathematics itself is a value structure, and is therefore dependent on, and based in "value judgement".Metaphysician Undercover

    I can't see how that can be true. Mathematics is purely quantitative, surely? 2 x 2 = 4 whether I like it or not, whether I think it's appealing or not.
  • Tom Storm
    4.6k
    Theology is a valid mode of knowing.emancipate

    What is it we know from theology and what counts as theology? Asking for a friend...
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    I can't see how that can be true. Mathematics is purely quantitative, surely? 2 x 2 = 4 whether I like it or not, whether I think it's appealing or not.Wayfarer

    The symbols "2" and "4" signify numbers, and numbers are quantitative values. In its simplest form, a number is the value assigned to a group of things. Mathematicians work with values. And the reason why 2x2=4 is that the values associated with the symbols, is fixed by convention.

    A more interesting way of stating your question might be to ask whether there are values which are independent of human minds, i.e. objective values, which either correspond, or do not correspond with the conventional assignment of values. For example, is there an independent, objective value which corresponds with what is symbolized by 2?

    The problem with your perspective being that we have no clear dividing line between conventional mathematics (where we all agree), and non-conventional mathematics (where there is some disagreement). The degree of agreement varies depending on the axioms employed.
  • emancipate
    452
    What is it we know from theology and what counts as theology?Tom Storm

    I picked at random a few ways that man makes sense of existence and called them modes of knowing. The actual list would be very long. Those that are theologically inclined find much meaning in pursuing theology, and they are valid in this. The poet is equally valid in his perspective. As is the scientist. As is the phenomenologist. As is the advaita Vedantist. Etc.
  • Tom Storm
    4.6k
    Ok, but by extension couldn't the Marvel universe also provide much meaning to some people - millions possibly? What criteria is used to distinguish valid from invalid?
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    In its simplest form, a number is the value assigned to a group of things. Mathematicians work with values.Metaphysician Undercover

    But you're equivocating the meaning of 'value'. In maths,'value' is a number signifying the result of a calculation or function. In ethics and philosophy, values are basic and fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate attitudes or actions. So the meaning of 'value' is different according to the context.

    A more interesting way of stating your question might be to ask whether there are values which are independent of human minds, i.e. objective values, which either correspond, or do not correspond with the conventional assignment of values. For example, is there an independent, objective value which corresponds with what is symbolized by 2?Metaphysician Undercover

    Assuredly. That A=A is not dependent on your or my mind, or on your or my assent. But it can nevertheless only be grasped by a rational intelligence. That is why I favour the form of objective idealism which says there are real ideas that are not dependent on our minds, but which can only be grasped by a mind.

    What criteria is used to distinguish valid from invalid?Tom Storm

    Hope you don't mind my chipping in here. There are domains of discourse within which meanings are fixed. Those classical domains, such as classical theology or Advaita Vedanta, have deep roots, i.e. their basic terms are defined in terms of fundamental values. The fact that they are so defined doesn't guarantee their veracity, although I think their longevity and adaptability provide support for that. Within those domains, there is what amounts to 'peer review', in that successive generations of adherents of those traditions authenticate the various texts and ideas of the domains. That is also the basis of the idea of lineage. In fact arguably those practices were the origins of peer review in science itself.
  • emancipate
    452
    Ok, but by extension couldn't the Marvel universe also provide much meaning to some people - millions possibly? What criteria is used to distinguish valid from invalid?Tom Storm

    I suppose the marvel universe is very effective at providing meaning within its particular domain (let's call that the realm of the imaginary). Like natural science is effective at providing meaning in its own domain (let's call that the physical). There doesn't need to be any criteria distinguishing validity or invalidity in this case because they each have their own respective, and different, domains. Choosing the valid/invalid modes would only be needed if science and the marvel universe covered the same domain. Obviously they do not, and no one seriously claims that they do.
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