Monday, March 8, 2010

Blinded by Scientism

The problem with scientism is that it is either self-defeating or trivially true. F. A. Hayek helps us to see why. Here is the first of a two-part series on the subject I wrote for Public Discourse. The second installment will appear on Friday.

14 comments:

monk68 said...

Dr. Feser,

Great article! I am currently working through Maritain's "Degrees of Knowledge" where he makes similar arguments and attempts to clarify the relationship between Metaphysics / Philosophy of Nature / Physico-Mathematico sciences / and empirical sciences. The dependence of mathematical models of nature, as well as all "observational" sciences upon metaphysical presuppositions is simply undeniable. Add to this fact, the impossibility, IN PRINICIAL, of a materialist reductionism of the Intellect, and the coherence of scientism, as embraced by popular and academic culture, simply explodes. I truly cannot understand how or why materialism dominates the modern mind the way it does - there is simply no way to PRACTICE science without dependence upon something like a traditional metaphysical theory. I hesitate to assert that the REAL reason for resistance to the LOGIC of you article is that those married to scientism recognize the philosophical/religious consequences of said logic, - But . . . . . . . . . . .

Truly Baffled,

-Ray Stamper

Daniel Smith said...

Excellent article Dr. Feser.

I'm wondering... if a materialist holds that matter is all that exists, what does he/she do with time, space and energy?

There is no denying that time, space and energy are real, yet none of them is a material thing.

How does the materialist reconcile this truth?

Anonymous said...

well, strictly speaking, in lieu of Einstein, we know that matter and energy are equivalent (E=mc^2).

TheOFloinn said...

It is also thanks to Einstein that time and space were banished from the last dregs of objective existence. He regarded them as metaphysical intrusions into empirical reality and said that if matter [which includes energy] were to vanish, time and space would vanish with it.

This is so reminiscent of things said by Augustine ["with the motion of creatures, time began..."] and Aquinas [time is the measure of change in corruptible bodies] and of space as being a consequence of the extension of physical bodies, that I sometimes wonder if the old dude wasn't Aristotle returned from the grave.

Anonymous said...

An additional problem for the materialist has been and still is trying to figure out what "matter" actually is. Quantum physics exploded the old conception of it, and the new one is is up in the air and may remain so. Hence that quiet transformation from "materialist" to "physicalist", and attempting to downplay the quantum world even while grappling with it.

winteryknight said...

Great job. You not only got in the self-refuting nature of the claim itself, but took a shot at materialism, too.

Ilíon said...

Daniel Smith: "There is no denying that time, space and energy are real, yet none of them is a material thing.

How does the materialist reconcile this truth?
"

Anonymous: "well, strictly speaking, in lieu of Einstein, we know that matter and energy are equivalent (E=mc^2)."

Yet, that equivalency depends upon the reality of time and space. 'C' represents, after all, "the speed of light."

Anonymous said...

I find this entire argument to rest on a rather pointless premise. Yes, science rests upon those assumptions and yes they cannot be truly proven through science, though one can demonstrate that they certainly fit how the world seems to work. However, are you really suggesting that those assumptions should be thrown out? Do you claim that there is no objective world outside our minds? I for one find solipsism to be the height of absurdity. Do you really think that the world is not causal and that events simply occur at random? Certainly we make these assumptions in science, but for a good reason. Without those assumptions any inquiry into the world is simply futile.

TheOFloinn said...

Yes, science rests upon those assumptions and yes they cannot be truly proven through science, though one can demonstrate that they certainly fit how the world seems to work. However, are you really suggesting that those assumptions should be thrown out? Do you claim that there is no objective world outside our minds?

The assertion was that these premises could not be proven scientifically and thus that asserting that only "scientific" knowledge is real knowledge is logically incoherent. There can be no empirical proof that there is empirical proof. That is not the same thing as denying the existence of an objective world; only that an objective world cannot be demonstrated scientifically, and thus that not all knowledge is scientific knowledge.

Ilíon said...

I wonder which is more likely -- that the previous Anonymouse (the one who insinuates solipsism to us) is a sophist? or simply ignorant? or quite incapable of grasping logical relationships?

Ali said...

Dr. Feser,

My apologies if I missed this in your article, but what of those individuals who argue that the the fact that science "works" justifies it?

Would you say that this is founded on the philosophical presumption of pragmatism?

Just wondering, because every time I point this out to those who follow scientism, they always go this route.

Vasari said...

Mr. Feser's article is written with brilliance and precision. In the seminary, we referred to scientism by the term "scientific positivism."

I think that Mr. Feser is the perfect Aristotelo-Thomistic philosopher.

Ilíon said...

As I understand it, 'scientific positivism' was the more formalized attempt at producing a coherent version of general 'scientism.'

Bharat said...

Ali,

Feser has a great response here.

He states
But why should anyone accept scientism in the first place? Rosenberg gives a single brazen non sequitur in its defense. The predictive power, explanatory range, and technological successes of physics, he says, far outstrip those of other purported sources of knowledge. And this, he concludes, shows that what physics tells us is real is all that is real. But this is like arguing that since metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins in more places than any other method, metal detectors show that only coins exist.