Scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the purportedly objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. The term scientism is generally used critically, pointing to the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards.
In the philosophy of science, the term scientism frequently implies a critique of the more extreme expressions of logical positivism and has been used by social scientists such as Friedrich Hayek, philosophers of science such as Karl Popper, and philosophers such as Hilary Putnam and Tzvetan Todorov to describe (for example) the dogmatic endorsement of scientific methodology and the reduction of all knowledge to only that which is measured or confirmatory.
More generally, scientism is often interpreted as science applied "in excess". The term scientism has two senses:
It is also sometimes used to describe universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or the most valuable part of human learning—to the complete exclusion of other viewpoints, such as historical, philosophical, economic or cultural worldviews. It has been defined as "the view that the characteristic inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only source of genuine factual knowledge and, in particular, that they alone can yield true knowledge about man and society". The term scientism is also used by historians, philosophers, and cultural critics to highlight the possible dangers of lapses towards excessive reductionism in all fields of human knowledge.
For social theorists in the tradition of Max Weber, such as Jürgen Habermas and Max Horkheimer, the concept of scientism relates significantly to the philosophy of positivism, but also to the cultural rationalization for modern Western civilization. British writer Sara Maitland has called scientism a "myth as pernicious as any sort of fundamentalism."
Reviewing the references to scientism in the works of contemporary scholars, Gregory R. Peterson detects two main broad themes:
The term scientism was popularized by F.A. Hayek, who defined it as the "slavish imitation of the method and language of Science". Karl Popper defines scientism as "the aping of what is widely mistaken for the method of science".
Mikael Stenmark proposes the expression scientific expansionism as a synonym of scientism. In the Encyclopedia of science and religion, he writes that, while the doctrines that are described as scientism have many possible forms and varying degrees of ambition, they share the idea that the boundaries of science (that is, typically the natural sciences) could and should be expanded so that something that has not been previously considered as a subject pertinent to science can now be understood as part of science (usually with science becoming the sole or the main arbiter regarding this area or dimension).
According to Stenmark, the strongest form of scientism states that science has no boundaries and that all human problems and all aspects of human endeavor, with due time, will be dealt with and solved by science alone. This idea has also been called the Myth of Progress.
E. F. Schumacher, in his A Guide for the Perplexed, criticized scientism as an impoverished world view confined solely to what can be counted, measured and weighed. "The architects of the modern worldview, notably Galileo and Descartes, assumed that those things that could be weighed, measured, and counted were more true than those that could not be quantified. If it couldn't be counted, in other words, it didn't count."
Intellectual historian T.J. Jackson Lears argues there has been a recent reemergence of "nineteenth-century positivist faith that a reified 'science' has discovered (or is about to discover) all the important truths about human life. Precise measurement and rigorous calculation, in this view, are the basis for finally settling enduring metaphysical and moral controversies." Lears specifically identifies Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker's work as falling in this category. Philosophers John N. Gray and Thomas Nagel have leveled similar criticisms against popular works by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, atheist author Sam Harris, and writer Malcolm Gladwell.
Genetic biologist Austin L. Hughes wrote in conservative journal The New Atlantis that scientism has much in common with superstition: "the stubborn insistence that something...has powers which no evidence supports."
Several scholars use the term to describe the work of vocal critics of religion-as-such. Individuals associated with New Atheism have garnered this label from both religious and non-religious scholars. Theologian John Haught argues that Daniel Dennett and other New Atheists subscribe to a belief system of scientific naturalism, which holds the central dogma that "only nature, including humans and our creations, is real: that God does not exist; and that science alone can give us complete and reliable knowledge of reality." Haught argues that this belief system is self-refuting since it requires its adherents to assent to beliefs that violate its own stated requirements for knowledge. Christian Philosopher Peter Williams argues that it is only by conflating science with scientism that New Atheists feel qualified to "pontificate on metaphysical issues." Philosopher Daniel Dennett responded to religious criticism of his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by saying that accusations of scientism "[are] an all-purpose, wild-card smear... When someone puts forward a scientific theory that [religious critics] really don't like, they just try to discredit it as 'scientism'. But when it comes to facts, and explanations of facts, science is the only game in town".
Non-religious scholars have also linked New Atheist thought with scientism. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel argues that neuroscientist Sam Harris conflates all empirical knowledge with that of scientific knowledge. Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton argues that Christopher Hitchens possesses an "old-fashioned scientistic notion of what counts as evidence" that reduces knowledge to what can and cannot be proven by scientific procedure. Agnostic philosopher Anthony Kenny has also criticized New Atheist philosopher Alexander Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality for resurrecting a self-refuting epistemology of logical positivism and reducing all knowledge of the universe to the discipline of physics.
Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society, draws a parallel between scientism and traditional religious movements, pointing to the cult of personality that develops around some scientists in the public eye. He defines scientism as a worldview that encompasses natural explanations, eschews supernatural and paranormal speculations, and embraces empiricism and reason.
Gregory R. Peterson writes that "for many theologians and philosophers, scientism is among the greatest of intellectual sins".
Philosopher of religion Keith Ward has said scientism is philosophically inconsistent or even self-refuting, as the truth of the statements "no statements are true unless they can be proven scientifically (or logically)" or "no statements are true unless they can be shown empirically to be true" cannot themselves be proven scientifically, logically, or empirically.
In his essay Against Method, Paul Feyerabend characterizes science as "an essentially anarchic enterprise" and argues emphatically that science merits no exclusive monopoly over "dealing in knowledge" and that scientists have never operated within a distinct and narrowly self-defined tradition. He depicts the process of contemporary scientific education as a mild form of indoctrination, aimed at "making the history of science duller, simpler, more uniform, more 'objective' and more easily accessible to treatment by strict and unchanging rules."
[S]cience can stand on its own feet and does not need any help from rationalists, secular humanists, Marxists and similar religious movements; and... non-scientific cultures, procedures and assumptions can also stand on their own feet and should be allowed to do so... Science must be protected from ideologies; and societies, especially democratic societies, must be protected from science... In a democracy scientific institutions, research programmes, and suggestions must therefore be subjected to public control, there must be a separation of state and science just as there is a separation between state and religious institutions, and science should be taught as one view among many and not as the one and only road to truth and reality.— Feyerabend, Against Method, p. viii
Thomas M. Lessl argues that religious themes persist in what he calls scientism, the public rhetoric of science. There are two methodologies that illustrate this idea of scientism. One is the epistemological approach, the assumption that the scientific method trumps other ways of knowing and the ontological approach, that the rational mind reflects the world and both operate in knowable ways. According to Lessl, the ontological approach is an attempt to "resolve the conflict between rationalism and skepticism". Lessl also argues that without scientism, there would not be a scientific culture.
In the introduction to his collected oeuvre on the sociology of religion, Max Weber asks why "the scientific, the artistic, the political, or the economic development [elsewhere]… did not enter upon that path of rationalization which is peculiar to the Occident?" According to the distinguished German social theorist, Jürgen Habermas, "For Weber, the intrinsic (that is, not merely contingent) relationship between modernity and what he called 'Occidental rationalism' was still self-evident." Weber described a process of rationalisation, disenchantment and the "disintegration of religious world views" that resulted in modern secular societies and capitalism.
"Modernization" was introduced as a technical term only in the 1950s. It is the mark of a theoretical approach that takes up Weber's problem but elaborates it with the tools of social-scientific functionalism… The theory of modernization performs two abstractions on Weber's concept of "modernity". It dissociates "modernity" from its modern European origins and stylizes it into a spatio-temporally neutral model for processes of social development in general. Furthermore, it breaks the internal connections between modernity and the historical context of Western rationalism, so that processes of modernization… [are] no longer burdened with the idea of a completion of modernity, that is to say, of a goal state after which "postmodern" developments would have to set in. …Indeed it is precisely modernization research that has contributed to the currency of the expression "postmodern" even among social scientists.
Habermas is critical of pure instrumental rationality, arguing that the "Social Life–World" is better suited to literary expression, the former being "intersubjectively accessible experiences" that can be generalized in a formal language, while the latter "must generate an intersubjectivity of mutual understanding in each concrete case":
The world with which literature deals is the world in which human beings are born and live and finally die; the world in which they love and hate, in which they experience triumph and humiliation, hope and despair; the world of sufferings and enjoyments, of madness and common sense, of silliness, cunning and wisdom; the world of social pressures and individual impulses, of reason against passion, of instincts and conventions, of shared language and unsharable feelings and sensations…
There are criticisms of orthodox, 19th Century scientism and I intend to continue with this enterprise
Scientism: Pejorative term for 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.
His essay, a defense of "scientism," is a long exercise in assimilating humanistic inquiries into scientific ones. By the time Pinker is finished, the humanities are the handmaiden of the sciences, and dependent upon the sciences for their advance and even their survival.
...scientism is a revival of the nineteenth-century positivist faith that a reified "science" has discovered (or is about to discover) all the important truths about human life. Precise measurement and rigorous calculation, in this view, are the basis for finally settling enduring metaphysical and moral controversies—explaining consciousness and choice, replacing ambiguity with certainty.
The term scientism is ordinarily used with pejorative intent.
The term 'scientism' is sometimes used in a pejorative sense
Scientism... a term of abuse since Friedrich Hayek first popularized it in the 1940s.
These theories show the continuing appeal of scientism—the modern belief that scientific inquiry can enable us to resolve conflicts and dilemmas in contexts where traditional sources of wisdom and practical knowledge seem to have failed.
... the mix of moralism and scientism is an ever-winning formula, as Gladwell's career demonstrates.
Harris urges that we use scientific knowledge about humans to discover what will maximize their well-being, and thereby to discover the right way to live. This is an instrumental use of science, starting out from his basic moral premise.
He says that the discovery of moral truth depends on science, but this turns out to be misleading, because he includes under "science" all empirical knowledge of what the world is like...Harris urges that we use scientific knowledge about humans to discover what will maximize their well-being, and thereby to discover the right way to live.
The main tenets of this philosophy are bracingly summed up in a series of questions and answers: Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
the best way to understand the charge of scientism is as a kind of logical fallacy involving improper usage of science or scientific claims.
A Guide for the Perplexed is a short book by E. F. Schumacher, published in 1977. The title is a reference to Maimonides's The Guide for the Perplexed. Schumacher himself considered A Guide for the Perplexed to be his most important achievement, although he was better known for his 1973 environmental economics bestseller Small Is Beautiful, which made him a leading figure within the ecology movement. His daughter wrote that her father handed her the book on his deathbed, five days before he died and he told her "this is what my life has been leading to". As the Chicago Tribune wrote, "A Guide for the Perplexed is really a statement of the philosophical underpinnings that inform Small is Beautiful".
Schumacher describes his book as being concerned with how humans live in the world. It is also a treatise on the nature and organisation of knowledge and is something of an attack on what Schumacher calls "materialistic scientism". Schumacher argues that the current philosophical "maps" that dominate western thought and science are both overly narrow and based on some false premises. However, this book is only in small part a critique.Antihumanism
In social theory and philosophy, antihumanism (or anti-humanism) is a theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition. Central to antihumanism is the view that concepts of "human nature", "man", or "humanity" should be rejected as historically relative or metaphysical.Archimedean point
An Archimedean point (or "Punctum Archimedis") is a hypothetical vantage point from which an observer can objectively perceive the subject of inquiry, with a view of totality. The ideal of "removing oneself" from the object of study so that one can see it in relation to all other things, but remain independent of them, is described by a view from an Archimedean point. For example, the philosopher John Rawls uses the heuristic device of the original position in an attempt to remove the particular biases of individual agents in an attempt to demonstrate how rational beings might arrive at an objective formulation of justice.The expression comes from Archimedes, who supposedly claimed that he could lift the Earth off its foundation if he were given a place to stand, one solid point, and a long enough lever. This is also mentioned in Descartes' second meditation with regard to finding certainty, the 'unmovable point' Archimedes sought.Sceptical and anti-realist philosophers criticise the possibility of an Archimedean point, claiming it is a form of scientism, for example;
We can no more separate our theories and concepts from our data and percepts than we can find a true Archimedean point—a god’s-eye view—of ourselves and our world.Church of Science
The Church of Science is a fictional religion from Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. It is first mentioned in Part III of Foundation, "The Mayors", and makes its last appearance in Part V, "The Merchant Princes".E. F. Schumacher
Ernst Friedrich Schumacher (19 August 1911 – 4 September 1977) was a German statistician and economist who is best known for his proposals for human-scale, decentralised and appropriate technologies. He served as Chief Economic Advisor to the British National Coal Board for two decades, and founded the Intermediate Technology Development Group in 1966.
In 1995, his 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered was ranked by The Times Literary Supplement as one of the 100 most influential books published since World War II. In 1977 he published A Guide for the Perplexed as a critique of materialistic scientism and as an exploration of the nature and organisation of knowledge.Fragmentalism
Fragmentalism is a view that holds that the world consists of individual and independent objects. The term contends that the world is indeed composed of separable parts, and that it is chiefly knowable through the study of these component parts, rather than through wholes. It therefore stands opposed to holistic interpretations of phenomena.
"The Fragmentalists carved the universe up into smaller and smaller pieces until they reached such a fine level of subdivision that they could no longer observe the pieces directly." (Stewart & Cohen, p.198) "As the tale of the Fragmentalists demonstrates, reductionist science usually looks for a mathematical equation, formula, or process that describes general features of the universe." (Stewart & Cohen, p.200)
Fragmentalism has also been defined as the notion that knowledge is a growing collection of substantiated facts or "nuggets of truth." Anti-realists use the term fragmentalism in arguments that the world does not exist of separable entities, instead consisting of wholes. For example, advocates of this position declare that: The linear deterministic approach to nature and technology promoted a fragmented perception of reality, and a loss of the ability to foresee, to adequately evaluate, in all their complexity, global crises in ecology, civilization and education.
This term is usually applied to reductionist modes of thought, frequently with the related pejorative term of scientism. This usage is popular amongst some ecological activists: There is a need now to move away from scientism and the ideology of cause-and-effect determinism toward a radical empiricism, such as William James proposed, as an epistemology of science. These perspectives are not new and in the early twentieth century, William James noted that rationalist science emphasized what he termed fragmentation and disconnection.
Such anti-realist rhetoric also underpins many criticisms of the scientific method: The scientific method only acknowledges monophasic consciousness. The method is a specialized system that focuses on studying small and distinctive parts in isolation, which results in fragmented knowledge.
An alternative usage of this term is in cognitive psychology. Here, George Kelly developed "constructive alternativism" as a form of personal construct psychology, this provided an alternative to what he saw as "accumulative fragmentalism". In this theory, knowledge is seen as the construction of successful mental models of the exterior world, rather than the accumulation of independent "nuggets of truth".The term also has ancillary uses in education, in design theory,
and environmentalism, as well as in healthcare and business management.The term has been used in politics, in anthropology, in international development and in ecological economics. The term has also been used in Cultural Studies and in historyList of philosophies
Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.Massimo Pigliucci
Massimo Pigliucci (Italian pronunciation: [ˈmassimo piʎˈʎuttʃi]; born January 16, 1964) is Professor of Philosophy at CUNY-City College, formerly co-host of the Rationally Speaking Podcast, and formerly the editor in chief for the online magazine Scientia Salon. He is an outspoken critic of pseudoscience and creationism, and an advocate for secularism and science education.Morality of science
The relationship between morality and science manifests itself in many areas. These include the following:
History of science
Morality without religion
Philosophy of science
Relationship between religion and science
Regulation of science
New Atheism is a term coined in 2006 by the agnostic atheist journalist Gary Wolf to describe the positions promoted by some atheists of the twenty-first century. This modern-day atheism is advanced by a group of thinkers and writers who advocate the view that religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and 'exposed' by rational argument wherever their influence arises in government, education, and politics. According to Richard Ostling, Bertrand Russell, in his 1927 essay Why I Am Not a Christian, put forward similar positions as those espoused by the New Atheists, which some say suggests that there are no substantive differences between traditional atheism and New Atheism.New Atheism lends itself to and often overlaps with secular humanism and antitheism, particularly in its criticism of what many New Atheists regard as the indoctrination of children and the perpetuation of ideologies founded on belief in the supernatural. Some critics of the movement characterize it as "militant atheism" or "fundamentalist atheism".Philosophy of happiness
The philosophy of happiness is the philosophical concern with the existence, nature, and attainment of happiness. Philosophers believe happiness can be understood as the moral goal of life or as an aspect of chance; indeed, in most European languages the term happiness is synonymous with luck. Thus, philosophers usually explicate on happiness as either a state of mind, or a life that goes well for the person leading it.Philosophy of social science
The philosophy of social science is the study of the logic, methods, and foundations of social sciences such as psychology, economics, and political science. Philosophers of social science are concerned with the differences and similarities between the social and the natural sciences, causal relationships between social phenomena, the possible existence of social laws, and the ontological significance of structure and agency.Pseudophilosophy
Pseudophilosophy (or cod philosophy) is a philosophical idea or system which does not meet an expected set of standards.Quincas Borba
Quincas Borba is a novel written by the Brazilian writer Machado de Assis. It was first published in 1891. It is also known in English as Philosopher or Dog? The novel was principally written as a serial in the journal A Estação from 1886 to 1891. It was definitively published as a book in 1892 with some small but significant changes from the serialized version.
Following The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (1881), this book is considered by modern critics to be the second of Machado de Assis's realist trilogy, in which the author was concerned with using pessimism and irony to criticize the customs and philosophy of his time, in the process parodying scientism, Social darwinism, and Comte's positivism, although he did not remove all Romantic elements from the plot.
In contrast to the earlier novel of the trilogy, Quincas Borba was written in third person, telling the story of Rubião, a naive young man who becomes a disciple and later the heir of the titular philosopher Quincas Borba, a character in the earlier novel. While living according to the fictional "Humanitist" philosophy of Quincas Borba, Rubião befriends and is fooled by the greedy Christiano and his wife Sofia who manage to take him for his entire inheritance.Sociological naturalism
Sociological naturalism is a theory that states that the natural world and social world are roughly identical and governed by similar principles. Sociological naturalism, in sociological texts simply referred to as naturalism, can be traced back to the philosophical thinking of Auguste Comte in the 19th century, closely connected to positivism, which advocates use of the scientific method of the natural sciences in studying social sciences. It should not be identified too closely with Positivism, however, since whilst the latter advocates the use of controlled situations like experiments as sources of scientific information, naturalism insists that social processes should only be studied in their natural setting. A similar form of naturalism was applied to the scientific study of art and literature by Hippolyte Taine (see Race, milieu, and moment).
Contemporary sociologists do not generally dispute that social phenomena take place within the natural universe and, as such, are subject to natural constraints, such as the laws of physics. Up for debate is the nature of the distinctiveness of social phenomena as a subset of natural phenomena. Broad support exists for the antipositivist claim that crucial qualitative differences mean that one cannot explain social phenomena effectively using investigative tools or even standards of validity derived from other natural sciences. From this point of view, naturalism does not imply scientism.
However, a classically positivist conflation of naturalism with scientism has not disappeared; this view is still dominant in some old and prestigious schools, such as the sociology departments at the University of Chicago in the United States, and McGill University in Montréal, Canada.
More recently, actor-network theory has analyzed the social construction of the nature/society distinction itself.Taede A. Smedes
Taede Anne Smedes (born July 3, 1973 in Drachten) is a Dutch philosopher of religion. He received a Ph.D degree from the University of Groningen in 2004 for a thesis on Avoiding Balaam's Mistake: Exploring Divine Action in an Age of Scientism.The Counter-Revolution of Science
The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason is a 1952 book by Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Hayek, in which the author addresses the problem of scientism in the social sciences, where researchers and reporters attempt to apply the methods and claims of objective certainty from hard science, despite the fact that these attempt to eliminate the human factor from study, yet these "soft" sciences center around attempting to understand human action.Theory and History
Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution is a treatise by Austrian school economist and philosopher Ludwig von Mises. It can be thought of as a continuation in the development of the Misesian system of social science. In particular, it provides further epistemological support for his earlier works, esp. Human Action. Most notably, Mises elaborates on methodological dualism, develops the concept of thymology – a historical branch of the sciences of human action – and presents his critique of Marxist materialism.
Furthermore, Mises puts forward a theory of knowledge and value. He later explores and critically analyzes paradigms of thought like determinism, materialism, dialectic materialism, historicism, scientism, positivism, behaviorism and psychology. He argues that these schools of thought – some politically motivated, others blinded by dogmatism – have committed epistemological and methodological blunders and are not conducive to a scientific understanding of human behavior.
Economist Murray Rothbard considered Theory and History to be Mises's most overlooked work.Wolfgang Smith
Wolfgang Smith (born 1930) is a mathematician, physicist, philosopher of science, metaphysician, Roman Catholic and member of the Traditionalist School. He has written extensively in the field of differential geometry, as a critic of scientism and as a proponent of a new interpretation of quantum mechanics that draws heavily from medieval ontology and realism. A documentary film about his life and thought is currently in development.