• Pseudonym
    1.2k
    I've heard the term used in a number of different situations, all of which in a derogatory sense, but I've never been able to pin down an exact definition.

    I'm aware of, for example Hilary Putnam's definition, the belief that "science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective", but this just describes Realism, or perhaps more specifically, Physicalism, both of which are perfectly legitimate philosophical schools, I'm not seeing the pejorative use here.

    Tom Sorrel defines it as "Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.", but I'm not clear here how he is judging how high is too high, nor what other branches of learning he's referring to.

    It seems at times to be referring to Positivism and at other times simply a warning to remember that the results from the softer sciences are very tenuous, but In very few cases have I heard specific claims made against scientismists (if that's the right word) which do not themselves suffer from the same dogmatism they accuse Scientism of.

    So, What does Scientism actually mean?
    Presuming it means something like the excessive use of science, how are we determining excessive?
    How does Scientism differ from either Physicalism or Positivism such that it deserves it's own name?
    Does anyone have any actual quotes from espousers of Scientism which make a good example of the sort of claim being referred to?
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    Generally speaking, treating science as a source of values rather than as a method for ascertaining facts.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    What does that mean? What are 'values'? Do you mean moral values, or things that people find important, or things that society should find important?

    Do you have any quotes from proponents of Scientism that could illustrate what you mean by "treating science as a source of values"?
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    Yes, a source of moral values, a guide to what is important in life, and so on. Basically, it is putting ‘science’ into the role that ‘religion’ used to occupy - as a guide to what sensible persons ought to think about life, the universe and everything. The Wikipedia entry on it, which I notice has been considerably expanded of late, says that scientism is:

    1. The improper usage of science or scientific claims.[8] This usage applies equally in contexts where science might not apply,[9] such as when the topic is perceived as beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, and in contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify a scientific conclusion. It includes an excessive deference to the claims of scientists or an uncritical eagerness to accept any result described as scientific. This can be a counterargument to appeals to scientific authority. It can also address the attempt to apply "hard science" methodology and claims of certainty to the social sciences, which Friedrich Hayek described in The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952) as being impossible, because that methodology involves attempting to eliminate the "human factor", while social sciences (including his own field of economics) center almost purely on human action.


    2. "The belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry",[10] or that "science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective"[5] with a concomitant "elimination of the psychological [and spiritual] dimensions of experience".[11][12] Tom Sorell provides this definition: "Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture."[13] Philosophers such as Alexander Rosenberg have also adopted "scientism" as a name for the view that science is the only reliable source of knowledge.[14]
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    Yes, I read the Wikipedia article, and I'm familiar with a few of the papers it cites. I'm still not getting any closer to a definition that isn't just personal bias.

    The improper usage of science or scientific claims
    Who's judging what is improper?
    when the topic is perceived as beyond the scope of scientific inquiry
    Perceived by whom?
    contexts where there is insufficient empirical evidence to justify a scientific conclusion
    Who says how much is 'sufficient' and how are they judging this?
    an excessive deference to the claims of scientists
    What is 'excessive'?
    the view that science is the only reliable source of knowledge
    What does 'reliable' mean here?

    It is a common stance amongst the secular intelligentsia,Wayfarer

    If it's so common, could you help me out with my last question, some actual quotes which typify this definition?
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    As for examples - there was useful essay by Steve Pinker called Science is not the Enemy of the Humanities in the New Republic, August 2013. It’s well-written and concise. And it’s also useful because while Pinker felt that he was deflating the criticism of ‘scientism’, many of the critics of the essay said that he had failed to come to terms with the flaws of scientism and instead was actually advocating it.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    I've read the article, still not seeing the "science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective"

    Pinker says;

    "An appreciation of the particulars of a work can co-exist with explanations at many other levels, from the personality of an author to the cultural milieu, the faculties of human nature, and the laws governing social beings."

    ...and...

    "No sane thinker would try to explain World War I in the language of physics, chemistry, and biology as opposed to the more perspicuous language of the perceptions and goals of leaders in 1914 Europe.

    ...and he describes positions that “science is all that matters” as "lunatic"

    So I'm struggling to see this as an example of someone claiming that only science can describe the world.

    He even specifically states "... the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values," which doesn't provide a very good example of your definition of "treating science as a source of values"

    Any more solid examples you have to had would be helpful.
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    The Coconut Shy

    A coconut shy (or coconut shie) is a traditional game frequently found as a sidestall at funfairs and fêtes. The game consists of throwing wooden balls at a row of coconuts balanced on posts. Typically a player buys three balls and wins each coconut successfully dislodged. In some cases other prizes may be won instead of the coconuts.

    Sorry, but I’m out of coconuts. :-)
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    Is this your idea of a philosophical debate? I pose two questions asking you to clarify your terms and you give up?
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    All the examples of ‘scientism’ I’ve recently run across have been on this forum, and they’re frankly not worth discussing. Let someone else have a go.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    If ideas opposed to yours aren't worth discussing, what exactly are you doing here?
  • Wayfarer
    6.5k
    One can be selective about such things.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    You mean select arguments that are easy targets and dodge them when you're faced with evidence that opposes your world-view?
  • Nop
    25
    Facing the risk that you might become as hostile to me as you seem to be against Wayfarer, I would like to throw you a coconut.

    Lets take Sam Harris as an example of Scientism. Harris seems to claim that science isn't affected by the Humean notion that you can't get an "ought" from an "is". According to Harris, neurobiology is able to measure individual well-being, and thus is able to tell us what actions are moral and which are immoral. I dont know Harris that well, but it seems to me that he subscribes to some form of utilitarianism. The problem that I see with the ¨scientism¨ of Harris, is that it assumes problematic philosophical positions, while disguising it as ´obective science´.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    You mean select arguments that are easy targets and dodge them when you're faced with evidence that opposes your world-view?Pseudonym
    Yes. You learn to expect that from Wayfarer.

    Science isn't suppose to address what is moral. Morality is subjective. Science gets at the objective. Science can explain why we have morals, but it doesn't explain what is moral - other than it is subjective and related to our goals at any given moment which we can all share or not share at any given moment.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Facing the risk that you might become as hostile to me as you seem to be against Wayfarer,Nop

    Seeing as Wayfarer has just tacitly labelled some of my ideas as so wrong they're not even worthy of discussion, I'm not sure how you're reading my responses as being the 'hostile' ones, but we can put that to one side.

    My question was "What is Scientism?", which I elaborated to explain that what I meant by the question was; how it differs from Physicalism or Positivism such as to require a new label and how it satisfies the claims I've read about it that it's adherents use science "excessively".

    You've given me an example of someone considered to practice "Scientism" and an outline of his view on morality. What I'm not getting is how you think that differs from Physicalism or Positivism and why you think it is demonstrably an "excessive" use of science.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Yes. You learn to expect that from him.Harry Hindu

    So I'm discovering.

    Science isn't suppose to address what is moral. Morality is subjective.Harry Hindu

    I understand that such a position exists, but it is not proven to be the case, its a meta-ethical position, a matter for debate, and has been for thousands of years.

    Are there people within "Scientism" who are actually claiming that science proves morality is objective, certainly Sam Harris hasn't claimed that (to my knowledge). His claim is that morality seems to be objective (a meta-ethical argument), and therefore, science can tell us what is moral. You might not agree, but I don't see what is wrong with the position such as to justify a pejorative use of the term. I just sounds like an old, well-travelled philosophical position to me.
  • Nop
    25
    If by Positivism you are referring to the movement of Logical Positivism, the difference between Positivism and Scientism seems to me that Positivism explicitly rejects all forms of metaphysics, while Harris seems to be fine with metaphysics (such as the metaphysics of Utilitarianism).

    Physicalism is the claim that everything is physical (and in the case of morals, it supervenes on the physical). The Scientism of Harris seems to be corresponding to Physicalism, and I am not sure if there is such a distinct difference. What do you think?

    Edit: to explain why I think it is an "excessive" use of science: questions regarding topics such as Being, Embodied Cognition, Perception and Genealogy should in my opinion, be contemplated without any methodological bounds, as Merleau-Ponty does in Phenomenology of Perception. When science tries to deal with these terms and corresponding questions, and when the inquiry is thus bound to scientific methodological bounds, we will not properly grasp what, lets say, perception, is.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    I think that the doctrine of Positivism is much misunderstood. At its heart, positivism is simply a metaphysical claim that no other metaphysical claims are objectively meaningful because they cannot be falsfied. The claim itself, of course, can be falsified immediately should anyone present a metaphysical claim (other than that of positivism) that are objectively meaningful and so is immune to its own criticism.

    As such, I think that Harris could be said to follow an extension of Positivism, in that he is claiming to have further metaphysical claims which can be falsified.

    I think it is far better, however, to simply see people like Harris as Physicalist and leave the term Positivism to history. As for a difference, I can't see one. His argument seems to be an entirely logical extension from a belief that free-will does not exist (certainly not a new philosophical position). If there is no free-will, then there is no 'ought'. The concept simply doesn't make sense, so morality comes within the purview of science by virtue of the inevitably that we just 'will' act one way or another,and we just 'will' feel one way or another about the actions of others.
  • Nop
    25
    What do you think about my opinion on why Scientism has an "excessive" use of science?

    Also, it now seems to me that Scientism could be differentiated from Physicalism, in that Scientism makes epistemological and methodological claims that Physicalism doesn't necessarily make. Harris would like to base the inquiry into morality, in scientific methodologies, which certainly is not a claim that Physicalism necessarily makes. Epistemologically, Scientism (e.g. Richard Dawkins) seems to claim that all things will be explained by science, and thus by the use of the methodologies science is bound to. I dont see any such claim as being essential to Physicalism.

    Regarding Positivism, you have quite an extentric interpretation of Positivism in my opinion, but that is not a topic I would like to discuss. What do you think about this attempt to differentiate Physicalism from Scientism?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    What do you think about my opinion on why Scientism has an "excessive" use of science?Nop

    It still seems to suffer from the same subjectivity that I was trying to get Wayfarer to define earlier. The key word in your explanation is 'properly' in "... we will not properly grasp what, lets say, perception, is.". How do you know when we have 'properly' grasped what perception is, such that you can identify at this very early stage in the investigation that the limitations of the scientific method will prevent us from getting there? What does it mean to have 'properly' grasped something as opposed to, say, having grasped it to one's personal satisfaction?

    Regarding the distinctions within Physicalism, I agree that further definitions may be required, but still the claims seem to follow using established philosophical positions. Harris wishes to apply the scientific method to morality, not as an ideological principle, but as the logical consequence of his physicalism.

    Moreland,for example, shows how determinism (or at least randomness) is essential under physicalism. I've shown how, for Harris (and others) determinism dissolves Humes's divide, so no further ideological positions are necessary to arrive at the conclusion that science is an appropriate tool for deriving morals. He might be wrong of course, he might have made a mistake in his logic, but no further idealogical beliefs are necessary (no further isms are required).
  • Nop
    25


    Properly grasping something in philosophy is necessarily to the extent of one's personal satisfaction. Arguments can persuade and not persuade, and the effect the argument has is defined by personal satisfaction. Subjectivity in this sense doesn't seem problematic to me, why do you think it is problematic (why is something ´suffering´ from subjectivity)? In addition, I dont think grasping something properly should be defined by using critera regarding ´properly´, as philosophy (e.g. Phenomenology) has, in my opinion, introduced a much more complex and beneficial understanding of ´properly´ grasping something (as is exemplified by Phenomenology of Perception). But now we are in a realm of opposing language-games, and I don't see much benefit in moving in this direction.

    Now when you claim that Harris wishes to apply the scientific method to morality as a logical consequence of Physicalism, that is fine. But it is not the same as Physicalism. You could then say that Harris is both a Physicalist (Harris believes that everything is physical/supervenes on the physical), and Harris subscribes to Scientism (Harris believes scientific methodologies should be applied to morality). It makes sense to me to differentiate Physicalism from Scientism, if you can be a Physicalist without subscribing to Scientism (e.g. I can have the position that everything is physical/supervenes on the physical, and that certain aspects of the physical should be inquired by non-scientific methodologies).
  • PossibleAaran
    173
    I think perhaps you are looking for something which doesn't exist. You ask for a neutral, non-polemical definition of Scientism. I don't think there are any philosophers who willingly accept "Scientism" as a description of their views. Usually "Scientism" is used as a name for views which, in the eyes of the critic, elevate science into an unacceptably special position.

    Some people call Sam Harris' moral theory "Scientism" because he insists that you can just use science to tell you what is right and wrong, and you don't need anything else - like a philosophical assumption or theory. Many critics say this is appealing to science in an illegitimate way. Frankly I think Harris' view makes no sense. I wouldn't call it "Scientism" but many people would.

    When I hear "Scientism", I think of the idea that the only reliable way of discovering truth is the method of science. This doctrine smuggles in three assumptions. First, that there is such a thing as "the method of science". Second, that this method is reliable. Third, that no other method is reliable. I think there actually are some people who accept all of this, but they wouldn't call it "Scientism", because that term is usually used polemically, with the suggestion that it is a bad thing to accept Scientism.

    Does this help?
  • charleton
    1.2k
    So, What does Scientism actually mean?Pseudonym

    Shite that takes on the mantle of scientific respectability but pays no regard to the subjective interests in its findings, but most importantly just uses science methods to built a false premise.

    Race Theory, Evolutionary Psychology, Sociology, Economics - tend towards scientism.
    There aim is to use the methods of science upon matters that are predefined.

    Astrology is the easiest example. It starts with the premise that our lives are cryptically encoded in the movement of the stars, because they effect our lives, and thus knowing where the stars are can lead us to predict the future and paint character pictures of people by their birth dates. Astrology piggybacks the findings of astronomy to give a scientific veneer and mathematical credibility to their method.

    There is no basis for the premise.
    Each of the above examples also have more or less faulty premises.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Properly grasping something in philosophy is necessarily to the extent of one's personal satisfaction. Arguments can persuade and not persuade, and the effect the argument has is defined by personal satisfaction. Subjectivity in this sense doesn't seem problematic to me, why do you think it is problematicNop

    It's just that you said "we" will not properly grasp... Implying that there is some sense in which you could judge that people other than yourself had not properly grasped something, that's what made me think you were making a claim to objectivity.

    I don't object to the idea that people like Harris represent some branch of Physicalism, nor that such a branch might have its own name, I just don't understand why it is being applied pejoratively. He seems to have taken an entirely reasonable logical route to get from his Physicalism to his conclusion that science can determine what is moral.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    When I hear "Scientism", I think of the idea that the only reliable way of discovering truth is the method of science.PossibleAaran

    Yes, I think a lot of people make this association, but have you ever heard or read anyone actually making this claim. I can't seem to find any quotes to that effect from anyone labelled as following Scientism.
  • Nop
    25
    I agree that "we" seems a bit problematic there. But I dont think Scientism as we have used the term in this discussion is a branch of Physicalism. Scientism seems to assume Physicalism, but the claims are of such distinct nature that I cannot see any reason why Scientism should be seen as a branch of Physicalism. Physicalism makes a ontological claim, Scientism makes a epistenmelogical claim. Physicalism doesn't imply Scientism, and Scientism only assumes Physicalism.

    He seems to have taken an entirely reasonable logical route to get from his Physicalism to his conclusion that science can determine what is moral.

    What do you mean by ¨reasonable logical route¨? His form of Utilitarianism is philosophically quite problematic. The fact that Harris wants to reason and proceed by using logical thinking, doesn't remove the problematic status of his philosophical assumptions.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Physicalism makes a ontological claim, Scientism makes a epistenmelogical claim.Nop

    You might be interested in these articles describing exactly the epistemological claims made by Physicalism.
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/20010220?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
    https://philpapers.org/rec/KALEPA

    Physicalism doesn't imply Scientism,Nop

    I think there's a good argument that Physicalism does imply the arguments made by people like Harris, but that's not really important. I'm more concerned to try and understand the reasons for the antipathy towards such an approach than I am with its correct taxonomy.

    His form of Utilitarianism is philosophically quite problematic.Nop

    So when you say 'problematic' here, are you saying it produces results you don't like, or are you suggesting there's something objectively wrong with his logic?
  • Nop
    25
    I agree we should avoid arguments around taxonomy. Personally, the antipathy I feel (and think) toward the approach of Scientism relates to my previous statement regarding terms such as Being, Embodied Cognition, Perception and Genealogy. In my opinion, the most philosophically interesting works are those that disregard any trace of scientific methodology, such as Phenomenology of Perception by Merleau-Ponty, Being and Time by Heidegger,
    Being and Nothingness by Sartre, and On the Genealogy of Morality by Nietzsche. This is subjective, but so is any preference in philosophy, as philosophy is not science.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    I prefer a good Sunday roast to pizza, but I don't describe pizza restaurants in a derogatory way. Its not that 'scientism' isn't to some people's tastes, or that it doesn't approach questions the way some people would like, that I'm confused about. I'm trying to understand why such an approach would cause people to describe it with such disdain.

    To me, disdain suggests objectivity. I feel quite strong disdain for certain religions, and I would feel comfortable describing them in a derogatory fashion, but that's because I think I can point to actual harm caused by their beliefs.

    With the discussion around Scientism, people seem really quite angered by that fact that those people think this way. I just can't see why.
  • Nop
    25
    Although this is pure speculation, it could be that Scientism provokes angered reactions because it operates in the public domain. Scientism and figures, such as Harris, are not really debated and taken seriously in acadamic philosophy (at least at my university), so non-academic philosophers might be more emotional when dealing with philosophy.
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