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Scientism

in response to:

http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/scientism/42028#disqus_thread

I’m just as concerned as Michael Ruse about the implied assumptions behind the claim that science is “the best (perhaps the only) way of genuinely knowing the world.” In fact, saying the the sentence applies only to empirical matters helps things not at all! Because the implicit presumption is that things that cannot be known in the “best way,” i.e. by science, are not worth studying at all. Forgive me if I’m suspicious about the generosity of scientists at large, but they are quite happy to reduce away the phenomena that are central to the meaning of our lives, like emotions, internal thought, or altriusm. Scientists have spent decades of ignoring and attacking those who criticize the assumptions of genetic determinism, rational actor theory, behaviorism, and so on. Only in the face of persistent (and obvious) failure have whole fields (biology, economics, psychology) changed course, and then only in minimally partial ways. Moreover, there has been little deep reflection among scientists as a whole about their own culture and prejudices and why, for example, they occupy an increasingly embattled position in society.

So in a broad way, I would agree that “using experience as a guide to my actions” is the best way of genuinely knowing the world. But that is a very open-ended idea, and it is hardly what most people have in mind when they refer to science today. I certainly do not embrace reductive science as “the best way” of knowing, and I would not limit my notion of experience to what happens in scientific labs. The day I feel scientists positively embrace that open-ended conception of experience is the day I will stop worrying about what motivates people to claim they (and only they) possess “the best (perhaps the only) way of genuinely knowing about the word.”

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