I’ve made my thoughts on scientism pretty clear in pretty much everything I’ve posted about metaphysics. I generally use the term to describe the belief that only quantifiable or measurable data has meaning, that only science can provide useful knowledge, and that science can provide utterly comprehensive knowledge of all things that exist.
While I love science – truly, I love science, philosophy of science, and history of science and if I could have several lives to live, I’d devote my next to physics – I do think that there are experiences and ideas that lie outside of the scope of science per se. Poetry. Happiness. Defining the scientific method itself. Math. Why people find some colors more pleasing than others. How to deal with regret. How to make the most moral decision, even when you think you know what that is.
I could go on.
While we may be to able scientifically parse aspects of these, I think there are limits to the level of comprehensiveness that human knowledge can achieve. Thus, I believe in science, but not scientism. I think there will always be more to know, and I can’t confidently say that our current scientific method is going to be able to handle it all.
But perhaps I’m taking too narrow an approach to the word. Last Friday, the blog Planet Pailly posted an entry on the term as part of its ongoing series “Sciency Words” (which is all around awesome and highly varied). The entry gives a few different interpretations on the term:
Advocacy of science education or funding of scientific research.
The belief that taking a scientific approach to other fields of study (history, politics, etc) can improve those fields.
The belief that science is the best or only source of truth.
The belief that the only true knowledge is quantified knowledge (i.e.things we can measure). This can be extended to mean that if we can’t measure something, it must not exist.
The improper use of science, either by making broad claims based upon limited empirical evidence or by misapplying scientific knowledge to unrelated topics.
This is perfect timing, because it also just so happens to be Scientism Week over at Scientia Salon. Part One has gone up today, and it really digs into the various ways of thinking about the term. It’s also a nice primer on the debates surrounding the use and acceptance of scientism as a concept, and while I’m still convinced that there are metaphysical properties and questions that extend beyond even the milder Descriptive Scientism author Robert Nola comes to in the end, it’s a thought provoking piece, fully worth a careful read. I’m excited for the rest of the series, though I have a suspicion I’ll be on the opposite side of a good portion of the upcoming claims.
But it’s always fun to be challenged.