Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism
edited by Maarten Boudry and Massimo Pigliucci
University of Chicago Press, 2017
Cloth: 978-0-226-49800-3 | Paper: 978-0-226-49814-0 | Electronic: 978-0-226-49828-7
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

All too often in contemporary discourse, we hear about science overstepping its proper limits—about its brazenness, arrogance, and intellectual imperialism. The problem, critics say, is scientism: the privileging of science over all other ways of knowing. Science, they warn, cannot do or explain everything, no matter what some enthusiasts believe. In Science Unlimited?, noted philosophers of science Maarten Boudry and Massimo Pigliucci gather a diverse group of scientists, science communicators, and philosophers of science to explore the limits of science and this alleged threat of scientism.

In this wide-ranging collection, contributors ask whether the term scientism in fact (or in belief) captures an interesting and important intellectual stance, and whether it is something that should alarm us. Is scientism a well-developed position about the superiority of science over all other modes of human inquiry? Or is it more a form of excessive confidence, an uncritical attitude of glowing admiration? What, if any, are its dangers? Are fears that science will marginalize the humanities and eradicate the human subject—that it will explain away emotion, free will, consciousness, and the mystery of existence—justified? Does science need to be reined in before it drives out all other disciplines and ways of knowing? Both rigorous and balanced, Science Unlimited? interrogates our use of a term that is now all but ubiquitous in a wide variety of contexts and debates. Bringing together scientists and philosophers, both friends and foes of scientism, it is a conversation long overdue.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Maarten Boudry is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at Ghent University, Belgium. Massimo Pigliucci is the K. D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He is the author of many books, including Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk and, most recently, How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life. Together they are the coeditors of Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem.

REVIEWS

Science Unlimited? tries to establish a clarity to the debate over the scope and limits of scientific knowledge, and whether there are forms of knowledge other than the scientific. With breadth and topicality, the contributors’ arguments critical of and defending scientism ring true. This book will appeal to a wide range of scholars, including those working in the fields of (obviously) philosophy, but also the sciences themselves, religion-based specialties, and the humanities in general.”
— John S. Wilkins, author of "Species: A History of the Idea"

TABLE OF CONTENTS


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0001
[scientism;Science Unlimited;pseudoscience]
This chapter discusses issues with our current understanding of scientism. It explores the relationship between science and other ways of knowing, and the possible value of a concept like "scientism" to describe various forms of (excessive) science enthusiasm. It provides a forum for philosophers and scientists, both detractors and enthusiasts of Science Unlimited, to talk about the nature, limits, and scope of science. It starts by introducing the issue of demarcation between science and non-science, focusing on the link between pseudoscience and scientism. (pages 1 - 10)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0002
[humanities;rational inquiry;scientism;unity of knowledge]
Many questions must be investigated by methods that are not “scientific,” in the popular and historical senses of that word. In particular, much legitimate and rational inquiry within the humanities cannot meaningfully be classified as scientific. At the same time, there is no clear boundary between the sciences and the humanities. In principle, all academic disciplines contribute to a unity of knowledge. Nor does any cluster of academic disciplines hold a monopoly on particular methods of inquiry. Neither the sciences nor the humanities have access to reliable supernatural methods, but insistence on this point should not be denigrated as “scientism.” It would be better, in fact, to avoid talk of scientism and to employ more precise terminology and concepts where needed. For example, we can speak of philistinism about the humanities and of inappropriate mimicry by humanities scholars of the superficial trappings of science. (pages 11 - 30)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0003
[limits of science;supernatural;methodological naturalism;web of knowledge;is/ought divide;moral realism]
This chapter defines “scientism” as science overstepping its proper epistemological limits. If there are no such limits, then there is no such thing as scientism to worry about. The first part of the chapter argues that human knowledge forms a tightly interwoven web, and that any distinction between science and everyday knowledge, or between science and philosophy, is merely pragmatic and has little epistemic import. So does this mean that science has no meaningful limits at all? The second part tries to identify clean “breaks” in the web of knowledge, where science seems to reach a hard limit. It considers two candidates: the distinction between natural/supernatural and the is/ought divide. As for the first, it rejects the notion that science is by definition restricted to the natural domain. As for the is/ought divide, it argues that here, indeed, science reaches some sort of limit. But this still provides no succor to advocates of “other ways of knowing." In the end, he concludes that the spatial metaphor that conceives of science as operating within a certain “realm,” with identifiable “borders," is misleading. If there are any limits to science, they will coincide with the limits of human knowledge. (pages 31 - 52)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0004
[supervenience;reductionism;folk psychology;monism;anomalous monism]
The idea that everything supervenes on the physical, or that the physical facts fix all the (experiential, mental, social…) facts, figures prominently in a broad family of arguments that appeal to those who have convinced themselves that physics, the science which by definition explores the physical and nothing but the physical, explains everything. But what does ‘fixing all the other facts’ exactly mean? This chapter focuses on physical facts as fixing the mental or psychological facts, for, as Rosenberg acknowledges, one of the most disturbing consequences of this particular brand of scientism would be the gratuitousness of our folk psychological concepts and explanations – including, for example, the concept of truth and explanations of why it is important or useful to have true beliefs. It argues that, on a monistic conception of the world – one which holds that some physical objects, events, states or processes are identical with mental or experiential phenomena (objects, events, or states) – no interesting or non-trivial reading of physics as "fixing the further facts" need follow. (pages 53 - 72)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0005
[scientism;naturalism;parapsychology;alternative medicine;metaethics]
Accusations of scientism are part of the defensive rhetoric of enterprises threatened by science taking over of their territory. Sometimes, as in the case of psychical research, the accusation serves as an excuse for failure. Alternative medicine presents a more ambiguous case: while a scientific style of understanding is critical for understanding disease processes, the purposes of medicine are not limited to investigation, explanation, and a straightforward application of biological knowledge. Finally, the case of morality illustrates an occasion where a strictly scientific approach is not adequate. There is no good reason to think there are moral facts akin to the sort of facts investigated by the sciences, or that moral debates can be translated into a kind of applied science of human flourishing. Even if we take a broad and ambitious view of science, hoping to achieve a comprehensive naturalistic understanding of our world that is continuous with the natural sciences, we have many purposes in life that are not always advanced by a single-minded devotion to scientific purposes. Especially those of who harbor such ambitions have to be more careful to distinguish between harmful and harmless varieties of scientism. (pages 73 - 94)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0006
[ethics;is/ought divide;morality;normative statement;non-normative statement]
If scientism is true, and if there is anything anyone should do or should believe, then it must be legitimate to derive a normative ("ought") statement from a non-normative ("is") statement. However, a generally accepted philosophical view is that one cannot legitimately derive an ought from an is. After briefly reviewing a few case studies in which the is/ought divide is crossed, this chapter considers the common philosophical justifications of the "can’t get an ought from an is" principle and show how devotees of scientism have attempted, or could attempt, to bypass those philosophical arguments. It concludes that these responses to the "is from an ought" problem might yet succeed. Even if they do, however, scientism will only have won a pyrrhic victory: the cost of justifying the divide-crossing is that a new and more serious problem for scientism arises. For any principled rejection of the is/ought distinction must, the authors argue, depend on one or more philosophical principles that cannot ultimately be fully grounded in empirical science. (pages 95 - 108)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0007
[science;humanities;progress;method;history;ethnography]
The appeal of scientism rests on five claims about the contrast between scientific and humanistic inquiry. First comes the charge that the humanities undergo directionless change, with no cumulative progress. Second is the recognition of the extraordinary successes achieved in some areas of natural science. Third is an appreciation of the precise articulation of method in some scientific domains. Fourth is the contention that humanists only reason cogently when they confine themselves to banal general claims. Finally, the history of the humanities and the social sciences seems to be dominated, for long periods, by theories whose severe shortcomings have subsequently been exposed. This chapter argues that the contrasts are sometimes inaccurate and sometimes overblown. Appealing in particular to the kinds of insights that history and ethnography can provide, it shows how the humanities can deliver important contributions to our self-understanding. A culture dominated by scientism would be radically impoverished. (pages 109 - 120)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0008
[supernatural;religion;theism;scientism;NOMA;philosophy]
Critics of religious, New Age, and other forms of divine or supernatural belief are often accused of scientism, with the accusation typically involving the thought that critics have crossed a line or boundary demarcating those topics or subjects that are the proper province of science, and those that are beyond its capacity to adjudicate. Within discussion of religious, spiritual, New Age, and popular divine or supernatural beliefs, this boundary marking the "limits of science" is almost always supposed to play an immunizing role: to explain why science constitutes no threat to such beliefs. "You scientists," say the believers, "may come this far, but no further." This chapter explains why many supernatural and religious beliefs are not, in fact, off-limits to science, and provide three illustrations of how the charge of 'scientism' has been made in a baseless and indeed irrelevant way against critics of religious and/or supernatural beliefs. (pages 121 - 144)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0009
[anti-science;cognitive illusions;future discounting;pragmatism;science hype;scientific change;scientific progress;scientific realism;scientism]
This chapter criticizes the overreach increasingly found in statements by scientists, philosophers, and science journalists about the “breakthroughs” and past achievements of science. Especially when scientific claims are unjustifiably hyped in comparison with other human endeavors and sensibilities (e.g., those that are the focus of the arts and humanities), the hype is a form of scientism. The chapter argues that strong scientific realism—the claim that the mature sciences now have the deep, representational truth about the universe, or very nearly—is a form of hype, one that has several seductive sources. Among these are cognitive illusions involving history and historicity, especially the flat-future illusion, which discounts the possibility of deep future change. On this view, today’s most mature sciences are going to be pretty sterile, looking forward. However, the distant future is not scientifically predictable in such depth. Accordingly, the chapter contends that scientific progress is better characterized pragmatically in terms of advances on previous achievements. These are often reliable innovations that include limited models and (other) heuristic shortcuts. The author briefly addresses several objections. Critics who complain that rejection of strong realism plays to the anti-science crowd often confuse truth with truthfulness. (pages 145 - 164)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0010
[inter-subjectivity;knowledge;natural science;rationality;pepeatability;scientism;Fundamental Argument]
One influential version of scientism says that only natural science provides rational belief or knowledge. This paper spells out and defends what the author calls the Fundamental Argument against scientism. The argument is that the fundament or basis of natural science itself consists of the deliverances of non-scientific sources of belief, such as auditory perception, memory, and logical intuition, so that if one claims that we should discard any non-scientific sources of belief, one undermines science itself. After laying out the argument in detail, this chapter discusses three objections to it: that scientism suffers merely from a local rather than a global fundamental problem, that the results of natural science are verified, confirmed, or repeatable, whereas the deliverances of non-scientific belief sources are not, and that the results of natural science are inter-subjective, whereas the deliverances of non-scientific belief-sources are not. Finally, it assess two alternative versions of scientism that are meant to sidestep the Fundamental Argument. This chapter argues that these more sophisticated versions of scientism either fail to escape the Fundamental Argument or become trivial and uninteresting claims. (pages 165 - 184)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0011
[demarcation projects;Karl Popper;signs of scientism;Susan Haack]
The author conceives of scientism as an at least implicit project of cultural imperialism, where "science" becomes the only source of human understanding, and scientific projects are the only ones worth pursuing. Scientistically oriented individuals -- a group of misguided scientists and philosophers -- pursue this project by proposing such as expansive concept of science that it begins to coincide with reason itself, thus "winning" the game by definitional fiat. This chapter defends, instead, a limited demarcation project where science is one of a number of human epistemic activities (others include mathematics, logic, philosophy), that is continuous with, and yet sufficiently distinct from other such activities. Science, therefore, though a crucial player, is far from being the only arbiter of everything worth knowing. (pages 185 - 202)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0012
[humanities;scientism;philosophical questions;physics]
Scientism is defined as the exaggerated respect for the findings of the natural sciences and the unreasonable extension of their methods to answer questions outside their original domains. Advocates of scientism accept this definition subject to the elimination of the qualifications "exaggerated" and "unreasonable." We hold that science can answer all cognitively significant questions and that such questions as it cannot answer are in one respect or another pseudo-questions, based on mistaken presuppositions. Scientism has the answers to many of the philosophical questions that have attracted the most interest by philosophers since Plato and that still hold the attention of philosophers and non-philosophers: Is there a God? No. What is the nature of reality? Just ask physics. What is the purpose of the universe, life, humanity? None. What justifies our common moral core? Nothing. Is there free will? Not a chance. Could there be a self, person, soul that lasts even over the body’s lifetime? No. (pages 203 - 224)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0013
[economic modeling;scientism;physics borrowing;the economist as craftsperson]
Critics of economics have frequently accused its practitioners of "scientism" for claiming, falsely it is alleged, that economists discover objective constraints on policy and social action. This chapter first reviews the historical accuracy of the claim that economists have tried to borrow authority from paradigmatic sciences, particularly physics, by copying modeling principles that are not motivated by the empirical character of the domain of economics. While acknowledging some warrant to the claim, it argues that appending a general charge of scientism to specific critiques of particular models adds no further content to any such critique. However, the second part of the chapter considers recent claims by a leading economist that he and his colleagues are craftspeople rather than scientists. It argues that this rhetoric arises from efforts to avoid allegations of scientism, in a context where both the allegations and the urge to escape from them reflect unsophisticated philosophy of science. (pages 225 - 244)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0014
[metaphors in science;mechanical philosophy;religion]
This chapter argues that science is deeply metaphorical and that the major event in the history of western science was the switch from the root metaphor of the world as an organism to the world as a machine. One of the ways in which metaphors are effective is by focusing on some problems and excluding others. Thus, one expects to find that there are some problems that may simply not have answers in the context of modern science, that is in the context of a science that regards the world mechanically. These include the fundamental question (why is there something rather than nothing), the foundations of morality, the nature and cause of consciousness, and the ultimate meaning of things. It is open to the Christian to answer these questions, but any such answers must be judged on their own merits. (pages 245 - 262)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0015
[experimental philosophy;intuitions;moral philosophy;scientism]
One strand of experimental philosophy seems to be defined by its rejection of the kind of appeal to intuitions built into well-known analyses of concepts like knowledge and causation. Experimental philosophers complain that "knowns" and "causes" are items of the public property of a linguistic community, and yet only a small number of language-users – philosophers in their armchairs, or participants in philosophy classes or seminars, or contributors to philosophy journals – provide the linguistic intuitions that conceptual analyses are tested against. According to surveys conducted by experimental philosophers, many people’s intuitions are different from those of philosophers. The question to be pursued in this chapter is whether such findings are a valuable corrective to traditional philosophical appeals to intuition, or whether they are a distraction motivated in part by scientism. This chapter argues that the more that experimental philosophy is a distinctive position – that is, hostile to intuitions and analysis – the more it does seem to be an outright departure from philosophy or a distraction in philosophy. The argument draws some of its content from some of the methodology of classical analysis and issues concerning normative moral philosophy. (pages 263 - 282)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226498287.003.0016
[reductionism;Einstein-Bergson controversy;demarcation problem;pseudoscience;sociobiology;Aristotle’s theory of science]
Science and philosophy are too closely intertwined ever to be divorced, but not so closely tied as to be indistinguishable. We cannot disentangle them without impoverishing both. Scientism, however defined, necessarily involves poor relations between the sciences and other disciplines. If only for this it must be combatted. But what is it to combat scientism? Many of scientism’s detractors insist on better policing of boundaries between disciplines, especially between science and other forms of inquiry. This chapter suggests another way. It commends instead a mindfulness when crossing boundaries, where crossing is both possible and profitable. Because some boundary transgressions are healthy and advance knowledge—cross-fertilization is a better word for these crossings than transgression. But in addition to mindful crossings, there are also bids at hostile take-over—bids that must be repelled or at any rate closely monitored. They are, as this paper will argue, illicit reductions. If we are after better relations between the sciences and the rest of the intellectual world—and indeed we should be—we should have a better understanding of its merits, and how good science is improved by the well-functioning of other disciplines with which it has ties. (pages 283 - 302)
This chapter is available at:
    University of Chicago Press

List of Contributors

Index